Today's cloud-based services, while clearly ground-breaking, still have important gaps to fill, such as the reliability and integrity of their service delivery infrastructures, or the degree of automation they use for activating and managing services, before the full promise of the cloud can be achieved. While the baseline of many offerings is in place, many efforts to close these gaps are furiously underway.
Alongside the virtualized infrastructures of the cloud computing
data center, an additional domain in which important progress remains to be made is in the quality, performance and agility of the communication networks cloud providers leverage to deliver their offerings. As things stand today, many service offerings are limited in responsiveness, performance and scale because of the limitations of the communication networks on which they are relying.
The effects of the limitations vary by the operator's location, operating model and asset pool. For example, cloud service providers running over the top of the internet to their customers have a different set of issues to address than service providers offering cloud-based services on top of customer-connecting networks they already own.
Some steps have been taken to reduce the size of the gaps. For example, many operators have developed cloud VPNs that activate special properties for enterprises and over-the-top
customers to improve their experiences. However, the agility of these offerings is constrained in many cases by the multivendor, multi-domain nature of telcos' infrastructures, and activating suitably powerful SLAs for both wireline and wireless customers still poses significant challenges.
Which brings us to the essential question: do software-defined networks (SDN)
present a special opportunity for operators to accelerate the success of their public cloud-based services? The short answer is: they may. A resounding "yes" will depend on how pervasively operators and suppliers embrace the paradigm, along with the pace of their uptake.
SDN has the potential to normalize templates for deploying a wide range of services on top of heterogeneous network infrastructures. In cloud-based services, one can easily imagine a service provider constructing service templates for offerings it wants to support that could be overlaid consistently onto its underlying networks. In this mode, a service provider could activate any cloud-based service it has on its menu from burst compute, storage archiving and cloud-based software development to distributed M2M and real-time conferencing on demand and without constraint. The templates would be consistent, and deployment could be achieved in any topology required.
By leveraging this basic flexibility, software-defined networks could accelerate the feasibility, speed of deployment and rate of acceptance of a broader range of cloud-based services than is achievable today. SDNs also have the additional virtue of each operator injecting its own differentiating value into its service offerings.
If early implementations yield positive results, it will be clear SDNs have a role to play in accelerating the creation of superior clouds by removing barriers to achieving the agility customers expect before embracing the cloud-enabled world with confidence. The only remaining questions will be, by which operators, for which services and customers, and how fast?
Paul Parker-Johnson leads the cloud computing and data center virtualization market research and consulting practice at AGC Research - [email protected]