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Assuring application agility in multi-cloud environments: CSPs must look beyond network performance

Anil Rao Principal Analyst, Research

"Assurance for multi-cloud environments must take into consideration the new dynamic networking environment alongside the SD-WAN, uCPE, and agile applications and workloads that will be distributed and moved across cloud environments."

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Front cover: Assuring application agility in multi-cloud environments: CSPs must look beyond network performance

Enterprises worldwide are undergoing some form of digital transformation or have a digital strategy in place. At the heart of these transformations is an intent to provide consistent and superior real-time customer experience to their end customers, rapidly deliver new services, and significantly reduce the cost of operations. To achieve some of these goals, enterprises are moving to multi-cloud environments; research shows that enterprises now use multiple public cloud platforms alongside their own private clouds.1

Multi-cloud environments enable application agility, allowing enterprises to dynamically place the applications and workloads in the most suitable cloud environment, and access public cloud and SaaS-based cloud services to deliver the best application performance, latency, and customer experience at lower cost points. However, to deliver application agility, enterprises must overcome the networking bottlenecks – rigid appliance-based branch networks and static wide-area network (WAN) connections. The focus is on communications service providers (CSPs), which supply wide-ranging managed services to enterprises, including branch networks and WAN services, to deliver agile branch networks and agile WAN.

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Reacting to market demand, CSPs are launching managed software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions, which enable enterprises to dynamically select a WAN path (e.g. IP/MPLS or internet) based on factors such as the destination (e.g. public cloud, private cloud, data center, or another branch) and the criticality of the traffic (e.g. critical or recreational). An appliance-based SD-WAN would increase the rigidity of the branch networks, so CSPs are offering universal CPE (uCPE)-based SD-WAN solutions. Taking advantage of the maturing software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) technologies, the uCPE platform obviates the need for proprietary appliances for WAN services such as SD-WAN, firewall, and WAN optimizers, and replaces them with equivalent software-based VNFs. Combined with orchestration capabilities, the uCPE platforms provide software-based dynamic control, allowing CSPs to deliver on-demand WAN services.

Service assurance will play a crucial role in the success of CSPs delivering the agile connectivity and branch services for application agility. CSPs, however, need a new assurance approach; one that is based on the ability to monitor and assure a highly dynamic application and WAN environment. The traditional WAN assurance solutions, designed for static branch and WAN environments, consist of a disparate set of tools, focusing primarily on performing service test and turn-up testing, monitoring the network appliances and the physical WAN links for performance degradation, and used separate tools for application performance monitoring.

Assurance for multi-cloud environments must take into consideration the new dynamic networking environment with SD-WAN, uCPE, and agile applications and workloads that will be distributed and moved across cloud environments. CSPs need to take an application performance-led end-to-end assurance approach providing a granular, near real-time view of how network performance is affecting application performance. The assurance solution must rapidly adapt to the dynamic network traffic paths and application locations to present an accurate view of the end-to-end service performance. It should incorporate dynamic active testing to validate the SD-WAN service and the VNFs instantiated in the uCPE environment, as well as the applications in the multi-cloud environment. And finally, the unified assurance solution should also provide the capability to monitor the health of the underpinning uCPE infrastructure and the VNFs and offer a fully correlated performance view across the service chain, network, and the infrastructure layers. As part of the technology evaluation process for monitoring multi-cloud environments, CSPs should consider a unified assurance approach based on virtual passive and active probes, which can provide an independent and vendor-neutral view of the end-to-end service performance.


1 According to the “RightScale State of the Cloud Report” (2018), enterprises are using an average of 4.8 public and private clouds.