Cabling the cloud

Commscope
Saturday, 13 October, 2012



In its simplest sense, the ‘cloud’ in the context of ‘cloud computing’ can be viewed as a alternative term for the internet. In the perfect vision of a cloud-based world, the size, power and location of network devices is not a concern for the user. Once the user has plugged into the cloud, the transmission, receiving and storing of data takes place without any concern for the mechanics of how this happens. This concept has long been accepted in the consumer world, but now cloud service providers are applying a similar philosophy to the business world.

Business-level cloud computing presents new opportunities but also new challenges for the IT community. Computing services, platforms, software and applications that would traditionally have been located on an organisation’s network are migrating from the enterprise to the cloud.

The goal is to enable access to both computing power and applications wherever and whenever they are needed.

This represents a fundamental change to the enterprise IT model, shifting investments that were previously part of the capital expenditure (CAPEX) budget into the corresponding operational expenditure (OPEX) budget.

With such a fundamental shift in the IT operating model, one of the biggest challenges faced by IT leaders, convinced of the benefits of a cloud-based approach, is how to move from their current network architecture to one built on the benefits of cloud computing. To make such a significant transition, the perceived benefits need to be substantial. So what are the key factors that cloud ‘evangelists’ are putting forward as the main benefits of this approach?:

  • Business agility: An organisation is able to vary the amount of service, and by implication the computing assets required, in line with business demand. This provides the organisation with benefits in terms of rapid service upgrade, data capacity management and application management.
  • Data centre availability: Cloud services are underpinned by data centre operations on an ‘industrial’ scale when compared to the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach where organisations run these critical business assets locally. Advocates of the cloud approach would argue that the ‘industrialisation’ of data centre services in this way provides a level of resilience that cannot be provided on a smaller, local scale.
  • Data centre efficiency: Fundamentally, the cloud concept is a virtual ‘on demand’ approach. The principle behind this is that service providers establish contracts with the customer so that the business only pays for the capacity it requires at any given time. This eliminates the significant cost incurred by the need to build in excess capacity locally to manage unpredictable demand. The curse of expensive, underutilised network assets is removed.

These benefits present an impressive list of reasons why businesses should move towards becoming purchasers of cloud-based services. However, apart from the challenges of making such a fundamental change to the IT operating model, there is one other major concern that the cloud service companies need to overcome in order to speed up adoption - and that is data security.

Moving business-critical data assets out of an organisation’s own control and into something describing itself as a cloud raises all sorts of concerns about where that data is located, how access to that data is controlled and what happens if the data gets lost somewhere in the cloud.

One of the main responses from cloud service companies to this concern is the concept of a ‘private cloud’. In a private cloud, some of the computing assets of the service provider are specifically designated for use by a specific client organisation and can be accessed through private connections rather than the public internet. This level of dedicated resources can even be further extended by bringing some of these private cloud assets back into the enterprise itself.

So, if the cloud-based world becomes a bigger and bigger reality, what will this mean for the cabling infrastructure on which all of today’s networks and data centres are built? TE Connectivity believes that the way forward is to design connectivity products and solutions that align with the key benefits of cloud computing - agility, efficiency and availability - along with products which also help build a more secure environment for cloud-based data.

Some of the examples of how this can be achieved are summarised below:

  • Business agility: Agility is all about the ability to make quick changes in direction with the minimum of effort and with the maximum of control. From an infrastructure perspective, this change in direction is most often forward towards higher bandwidth applications and higher capacity. Employing modular, plug-and-play solutions as part of a cabling infrastructure can provide a solid foundation for building a data centre with this capability. For example, preterminated MPO solutions are an example of plug-and-play fibre technology, and MRJ21-based copper connectivity is a good example of a plug-and-play copper technology. Building on these core technologies with a modular approach to the patch panels and other mounting hardware, maximising the interchangeability for upgrades, is another path to an agile cabling infrastructure. Of equal importance is a forward-thinking approach to the initial infrastructure design. This is where the involvement of an experienced cabling infrastructure manufacturer at the early stage of data centre design can make a real difference.
  • Data centre availability: Availability translates both to the uptime and resilience of the data centre itself and to the ability to get the products needed, where and when they are needed. This is where it becomes important to select cabling manufacturers who have a strong ‘on-the-ground’ presence and strong delivery partners. Excellent product quality supported by a meaningful warranty is a minimum requirement that all data centre operators should insist on. Data centre uptime is fundamental to cloud service offerings, and is all about building trust and minimising risk. The end customer must trust the cloud service provider that the services will always be available, and the data centre operator has to trust the infrastructure building blocks on which the data centre is built. An infrastructure built on connectivity that is standards compliant, independently verified and from a well-established supplier with a strong track record will be critical to achieving a high-availability data centre.
  • Data centre efficiency: The initial capital expenditure required to build a data centre and the ongoing energy costs are two of the biggest costs faced by cloud service providers. Efficient control of both these cost categories is a key ingredient of service profitability. While cabling infrastructure represents a relatively small part of the initial costs and uses virtually zero energy, a well-thought-out infrastructure design from an expert manufacturer can reduce both the initial spend and ongoing energy consumption. Avoiding barriers to efficient airflow with good cabling management is just one example. To further enhance data centre efficiencies, managed connectivity solutions are now available that integrate with network management software to monitor the physical infrastructure alongside the active equipment to maximise the efficient use of these expensive network assets.
  • Data security: By deploying a managed connectivity solution, the service provider gains the maximum visibility of changes to the physical infrastructure - authorised or unauthorised. Combining this level of visibility with physical security measures on the connectivity products themselves can help minimise the end client’s data security concerns, and help in keeping track of the data’s ‘physical’ location within the cloud.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that cloud computing offers some significant opportunities and challenges for the industry and will play its part in the networks of the future. TE Connectivity believes that the right cabling and connectivity choices can make a big difference to this future in terms of the level of adoption of cloud service, value for money for the customer and profitability for the cloud service provider.

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