Ensuring Quality Access To Cloud Apps

Speed arrowsThe ongoing shift of focus away from point-to-point communication towards Everything-as-an-App changes corporate users’ expectations regarding their LAN and WAN performance. Not only do they expect the apps to work across a range of end-user devices, they also expect them to synchronize across these devices and be available in any location they happen to be working in.

This is all good news for the IT department, as it emphasizes the still-more-critical role of both network access and network resources. Let’s face it: IT professionals thrive on complexity, especially when the users demand convenience.

To deliver on these expectations, IT needs to identify what apps are to be considered ‘corporate’, and then build the network fabric that provides the required services and meets core requirements around control, flexibility, security, cost, etc.

Corralling the corporate app universe

An enterprise app store can provide the controlled availability of apps for employees and partners. Selecting an external app store provider like Apperian or Good for on-site or hosted cloud solutions should be based on a thorough needs assessment that includes:

  • The types of apps to include (public, custom, hybrid)
  • The location of the store (in-house or in the cloud)
  • The mobile OS to support (this list will grow and change)
  • Browser and native apps support (downloadable and HTML5 browser accessible)
  • Access controls (aligned with corporate authentication and authorization procedures)
  • Update and notification strategy (make it convenient, but insisting until it becomes compulsory)
  • Store management (handling new apps, monitoring usage, and retiring old apps)
  • Security (Encryption and malware filtering, as well as app performance and usage monitoring)

Providing the blue skies network access

If we refer to WAN-accessed app providers as ‘cloud’ service providers, then we might refer to the network access as depending on the local ‘weather conditions’. A more prosaic term might be ‘WAN-optimization’. But that doesn’t quite capture the performance requirements for apps-performance optimization where software-defined networks (SDN) performance improvements (and cost reduction) involve consolidation, convergence, and virtualization, along with significant changes in management and GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) procedures. The cat’s cradle of MPLS connections, leased lines, and Internet connectivity makes unified apps performance management really difficult, as these apps may reside in internal data centers or be provided by SaaS operators like Salesforce.Com and Microsoft 365, or via IaaS providers like AWS and Azure. There are several approaches to this:

Network vendors like XO Communications with its Intelligent WAN Network may advocate a single end-to-end MPLS. Hardware centric vendors like Riverbed and Cisco prefer to address the problem with hardware alignment. Riverbed with its range of Steelhead boxes aims to accelerate the delivery of applications to the branch and from the cloud and allows IT to prioritize delivery of mission-critical applications over the fastest networks. Similarly, Cisco uses its Application Experience (AX) Routers to scale to the growing demands of branch-office users by providing an optimal experience over any connection at lower cost.

The latest software-centric offering comes from the company hosting this blog. Silver Peak recently launched its Unity Intelligent WAN Fabric combining software or appliance instances, cloud intelligence and orchestration. Here, the focus is on software combining advanced WAN routing, encryption, data deduplication, and traffic shaping, with real time ‘weather reports’ on local network performance levels relative to where the user is located. The aim is to identify the optimal traffic path to the optimal egress point to access SaaS, IaaS, or corporate data centers, all managed as a single ‘fabric’ by corporate IT. This approach handles multiple traffic protocols and is hardware independent. However, it works best with SaaS and IaaS providers that actively provide access information to the global Silver Peak ‘weather desk’, that monitors traffic conditions and continuously updates the local Unity instances. At launch some 30+ SaaS providers were connected — with more to follow as customer adoption grows.

Combining an enterprise app store with a unified access fabric goes a long way to providing faster, cheaper and more reliable apps availability for corporate users. Access optimization doesn’t vector in mobile users yet, and of course just around the corner lurks the Internet of Things raising a host of new security and performance issues, but for corporate IT, the weather outlook is good!