Cloud, cloud, cloud.

All I’m hearing at the moment is “cloud, cloud, cloud” and “SD-WAN-this, SD-WAN-that.” It’s reaching fever pitch. They are both technologies that are making a lot of noise in the IT arena and anyone that knows anything about either of them will find it easy to understand why.

However, I am not seeing a lot of joined-up thinking around them. If you scratch the surface, it becomes apparent that cloud and SD-WAN should really make an effort to introduce themselves to one another. I think they could be friends. Here’s why.

First, lets remind ourselves on why organisations are rapidly adopting the consumption of their apps and data from cloud. The benefits unlocked by cloud computing are abundant. Whether an organisation is looking to reduce their operational overheads, leverage the agility and autonomy of self-service, on-demand provisioning or benefit from elasticity of scale, it’s obvious to see why cloud is such an attractive option.

However, it’s not all magic and unicorns up there. There are some side-effects that need to be considered. Sure, the cloud is a great place to be, but the road to reach it — the network — can be fraught with danger.

Wild Wild West

Organisations have traditionally been intra-connected by a private WAN that comes with security, QoS, and an SLA to boot. However, now they are required to open the door to the outside world to enable them to connect to a public facing Cloud out there in the wild. Or, the Wild Wild West (WWW), as I like to call it. Cue potential headaches.

My primary fears with this are centred around network reliability and performance between an end user and the cloud, especially when you consider standard internet connectivity will often have less robust (or no) support models in place versus traditional corporate connectivity.

Ultimately, the big hit here is user experience (UX). A user may be consuming Citrix XenDesktop out of the Cloud, they may be having a Skype for Business call with their customer or buying stock using a real-time trading app. Whatever they are doing, UX is king. We know that factors such as latency, jitter, packet loss and available bandwidth all have an impact on UX and so-called Quality of Experience. Variable link quality caused by these factors can seriously damage UX. To this end, Citrix has spent years optimising the delivery mechanism of its technologies so that, even in sub-optimal conditions, a good UX is still feasible. However, even this has its limits. Your car can have the best suspension in the world, but if the road is bumpy enough, you are going to have some discomfort.

Furthermore, not having full ownership and control of end-to-end connectivity means an organisation is unlikely to have access to any reporting or analytics around network health, performance and utilisation. Sure, the ISP’s do provide some service related info, but not to the level where you would be able to drill down on a specific user at a specific moment in time in the past to find out why ‘things were running like a dog’.

When I start to digest all of this and think about it, it makes me slightly nervous. Organisations are moving business critical components to someone else’s big, shiny, secure building in the sky but the only way to get there is across a poorly maintained road full of potholes. Oh, and they are driving blindfolded.

Hedging your bets with a Multi-Cloud strategy

Another thing to get straight is that it’s very unlikely an organisation will have a truly monogamous relationship with a single Cloud. The odds are they will be consuming applications and anything-as-a-service from a variety of different providers, be it from the big boys Microsoft and Amazon or a more niche provider. Therefore, the multi-cloud factor is a key component to consider in all of this.

So, what are the solutions? Direct Connect? ExpressRoute? To a point, these services can help organisations get the performance, resiliency and control they need when delivering business critical apps from someone else’s DC the cloud. However, they are still very much limited in terms of the multi-cloud story. Plus these solutions are hardly inexpensive.

If only there was another way… well, there is.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you NetScaler SD-WAN

This is where NetScaler SD-WAN comes into the equation. How?, you ask. Three reasons:

  1. NetScaler SD-WAN knows about the state of the network at any moment in time. Are all links up? Are all links performing optimally in BOTH directions? Is there congestion at the far end?
  2. NetScaler SD-WAN knows about the traffic transiting the network. Is it Skype for Business? OK, VoIP is sensitive to jitter. Is it SalesForce? Yes, this is an interactive app. Is it a member of staff browsing Facebook? Hmmmm…
  3. NetScaler SD-WAN knows what apps are most important to an organisation. Business apps should surely take precedence over Facebook right??!

NetScaler SD-WAN has the ability to create a virtual WAN path, comprised of any type of physical circuit an organisation uses to connect to the internet. Be it MPLS, ADSL, 4G LTE or even Satellite links. The virtual path can link an organisation’s branch office to either Azure or AWS to facilitate a reliable, performant and secure connection across the Wild Wild West of the internet. Therefore, any applications that are being served out of these Cloud locations can leverage and enjoy the benefits NetScaler SD-WAN brings to the table.

But it doesn’t end there. Network conditions can be variable, so NetScaler SD-WAN needs to be able to react quickly. By having such a fine grained view of the health and performance of all links inside the virtual path courtesy of the plarform’s advanced ‘per-packet’ monitoring capability, it is able to make sub-second decisions on how and where to route the traffic. This is critical in providing that continuity of service that would otherwise have been impossible.

Piecing this all together, NetScaler SD-WAN can ensure the most important apps are prioritised and sent across the most performant link appropriate for that app at any given moment. This is all possible whilst having full statistical data of how the network is performing and what traffic it is handling. This is powerful stuff. Like driving on a brand new motorway, with your eyes open, and your sat-nav dynamically checking the road ahead all the way to your destination (and the return journey too, just because it can).

Citrix + Equinix = UX²

However, as nice as all this is, it doesn’t solve the Multi-Cloud situation does it? What if an organisation is consuming SaaS from more than one Cloud provider? What if one of these providers isn’t Azure or AWS? How does NetScaler SD-WAN help here?

This is how. Around a year ago, Citrix and Equinix (enablers of the interconnected enterprise, no less) formed a partnership allowing NetScaler SD-WAN to be part of the Equinix Performance Hub. Put simply, this is a rack of equipment in one of Equinix’s 180+ data centres. Performance Hub facilitates connectivity to something called Equinix Cloud Exchange (ECX). ECX is super-fast connectivity from the Equinix DC to over 1500 major Cloud and XaaS providers. Therefore, all an enterprise has to do is get their traffic from their users to the Equinix DC across the Wild Wild West and they are then directly on the proverbial doorstep of all of their hosted apps and data. By provisioning a NetScaler SD-WAN appliance in the remote office and in Equinix Performance Hub, it means the end-to-end connectivity will be that befitting carrier-class enterprise requirements. Which basically means fast, reliable, secure, and visible.

Never break the chain*

So, if someone asks you how NetScaler SD-WAN fits into the Cloud story, be sure to emphasise the following…

The network is like a chain. It’s only as strong as its weakest link. NetScaler SD-WAN will essentially galvanise the weakest link of the network to ensure it will be strong enough to keep your data flowing. And if it isn’t, there will be another galvanised link ready and waiting to take over — seamlessly, of course.

So, cloud and SD-WAN. A match made in Heaven? You bet!

*Tenuous F1 link (for all those BBC viewers out there). Can’t write a Citrix blog post without referencing Red Bull Racing 🙂