Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Akamai Technologies.
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.
Today we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how the major IT trends of the day -- from mobile to cloud to app stores -- are changing the expectations we all have from our networks.
We hear about the post-PC era, but rarely does anyone talk about the post-LAN or even the post-WAN era. How are the networks of yesterday going to support the applications and media delivery requirements of tomorrow?
It’s increasingly clear that more users will be using more devices to access more types of content and services. They want coordination among those devices for that content. They want it done securely with privacy, and they want their IT departments to support all of their devices for all of their work applications and data too.
From the IT mangers' perspective, they want to be able to deliver all kinds of applications using all sorts of models, from smartphones to tablets to zero clients to web streaming to fat-client downloads and website delivery across multiple public and private networks with control and with ease.
This is all a very tall order, and networks will need to adjust rapidly or the latency and hassle of access and performance issues will get in the way of users, their new expectations, and their behaviors -- for both work and play.
We're here today with an executive from at Akamai Technologies to delve into the rapidly evolving trends and subsequently heightened expectations that we're all developing around our networks. We are going to look at how those networks might actually rise to the task.
Please join me in welcoming Neil Cohen, Vice President of Product Marketing at Akamai Technologies. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Neil. [Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Neil Cohen: Hi, Dana. Happy to be here.
Gardner: So Neil, given these heightened expectations -- this always-on, hyper connectivity mode -- how are networks going to rise to this? Are they maybe even at the risk of becoming the weak link in how we progress?
Change is needed
Cohen: Nobody wants the network to be the weak link, but changes definitely need to happen. Look at what’s going on in the enterprise and the way applications are being deployed. It’s changing to where they're moving out to the cloud. Applications that used to reside in your own infrastructure are moving out to other infrastructure, and in some cases, you don’t have the ability to place any sort of technology to optimize the WAN out in the cloud.
Mobile device usage is exploding. Things like smartphones and tablets are all becoming intertwined with the way people want to access their applications. Obviously, when you start opening up more applications through access to the internet, you have a new level of security that you have to worry about when things move outside of your firewall that used to be within it.
Gardner: One of the things that's interesting to me is that there are so many different networks involved with an end-to-end services lifecycle now. We think about mobile and cloud, and we don’t have one administrator to go to, one throat to choke, as it were. How do people approach this problem when there are multiple networks, and how do you know where the weak link is, when there is a problem?
Cohen: The first step is to understand just what many networks actually mean, because even that has a lot of different dimensions to it. The fact that things are moving out to public clouds means that users are getting access, usually over the internet. We all know that the internet is very different than your private network. Nobody is going to give you a service-level agreement (SLA) on the internet.
Something like mobile is different, where you have mobile networks that have different attributes, different levels of over subscription and different bottlenecks that need to be solved. This really starts driving the need to not only 1) bring control over the internet itself, as well as the mobile networks.
But also 2) the importance for performance analytics from a real end-user perspective. It becomes important to look at all the different choke points at which latency can occur and to be able to bring it all into a holistic view, so that you can troubleshoot and understand where your problems are.
Gardner: This is something we all grapple with. Occasionally, we’ll be using our smartphones or tablets and performance issues will kick in. I don’t have a clue where that weak link is on that spectrum of my device back to some data center somewhere. Is there some way that the network adapts? Is there a technology approach to this? We all want to attack it, but just briefly from a technological perspective, how can this end-to-end solution start to come together?
Cohen: There are a lot of different things that people are looking at to try to solve application delivery outside of the corporate network. Something we’ve been doing at Akamai for a long time is deploying our own optimization protocols into the internet that give you the control, the SLA, the types of quality of service that you normally associate with your private network.
And there are lots of optimization tricks that are being done for mobile devices, where you can optimize the network. You can optimize the web content and you can actually develop different formats and different content for mobile devices than for regular desktop devices. All of those are different ways to try to deal with the performance challenges off the traditional WAN.
Gardner: It's my sense that the IT folks inside enterprises are looking to get out of this business. There's been a tendency to bake more network services into their infrastructure, but I think as that edge of the enterprise moves outward, almost to infinity at this point, with so many different screens per user, that they probably want to outsource this as well. Do you sense if that’s the case and are the carriers stepping up to the plate and saying, "We’re going to take over more of this network performance issue?"
Cohen: I think they're looking at it and saying, "Look, I have a problem. My network is evolving. It's spanning in lots of different ways, whether it's on my private network or out on the internet or mobile devices," and they need to solve that problem. One way of solving it is to build hardware and do lots of different do-it-yourself approaches to try to solve that.
I agree with you, Dana. That’s a very unwieldy approach. It requires a lot of dollars and arguably doesn’t solve the problem very well, which is why companies look for managed services and ways to outsource those types of problems, when things move off of their WAN.
But at the same time, even though they're outsourcing it, they still want control. It's important for an IT department to actually see what traffic and what applications are being accessed by the users, so that they understand the traffic and they can react to it.
Gardner: At the same time I'm seeing a rather impressive adoption pattern around virtualized desktop activities and there’s a variety of ways of doing this. We’ve seen solutions from folks like Citrix and Microsoft and we’re seeing streaming, zero-client, thin-client, and virtual-desktop activities, like infrastructure in the data center, a pure delivery of the full desktop and the applications as a service.
These are all different characterizations I suppose of a problem on the network. That is to say that there are different network issues, different payloads, and different protocols and technology. So how does that fit into this? When we look at latency, it's not just latency of one kind of delivery or technology or model. It's multiple at the same time.
Cohen: You’re correct. There are different unique challenges with the virtual desktop models, but it also ties into that same hyper-connected theme. In order to really unleash the potential of virtual desktops, you don’t only want to be able to access it on your corporate network, but you want to be able to get a local experience by taking that virtual desktop anywhere with you just like you do with a regular machine. You’re also seeing products being offered out in the market that allow you to extend virtual desktops onto your mobile tablets.
You have the same kind of issues again. Not only do you have different protocols to optimize for virtual desktops, but you have to deal with the same challenges of delivering it across that entire ecosystem of devices, and networks. That’s an area that we’re investing heavily in as it relates to unlocking the potential of VDI. People will have universal access, to be able to take their desktops wherever they want to go.
Gardner: And is there some common thread to what we would think of in the past as acceleration services for things like websites, streaming, or downloads? Are we talking about an entirely new kind of infrastructure or is this some sort of a natural progression of what folks like Akamai have been doing for quite some time?
Cohen: It's a very logical extension of the technology we’ve built for more than a decade. If you look a decade ago, we had to solve the problem of delivering streaming video, real-time over the web, which is very sensitive to things like latency, packet loss, and jitter and that’s no different for virtual desktops. In order to give that local experience for virtual users, you have to solve the challenges of real-time communication back and forth between the client and the server.
Gardner: And these are fairly substantial issues. It seems to me that if you can solve these network issues, if you can outsource some of the performance concerns and develop a better set of security and privacy, I suppose backstops, then you can start to invest more in your data center consolidation efforts -- one datacenter for a global infrastructure perhaps.
You can start to leverage more outsource services like software as a service (SaaS) or cloud. You can transform your applications. Instead of being of an older platform or paradigm or model, you can start to go toward newer ones, perhaps start dabbling in things like HTML5.
If I were an architect in the enterprise, it seems to me that many of my long-term cost-performance improvement activities of major strategic initiatives are all hinging on solving this network problem.
So do you get that requirement, that request, from the CIO saying, "Listen, I'm betting my future on this network. What do I need to do? Who do I need to go to to make sure that that doesn’t become a real problem for me and makes my dollar spent perhaps more risky?"
Cohen: What I'm hearing is more of a business transformation example, where the business comes down and puts pressure on the network to be able to access applications anywhere, to be able to outsource, to be able to offshore, and to be able to modernize their applications. That’s really mandating a lot of the changes in the network itself.
The pressure is really coming from the business, which is, "How do I react more quickly to the changing needs of the business without having IT in a position where they say, 'I can't.' " The internet is the pervasive platform that allows you to get anywhere. What you need is the quality of service guarantees that should come with it.
Gardner: I suppose we’re seeing two things here. We’ve got the pressure from the business side, which is innovate, do better, and be agile. IT is also having to do more with less, which means they have to in many cases transform and re-engineer and re-architect.
So you have a lot of wind in your sails, right? There are a lot of people saying, I want to find somebody who can come to this network problem with some sort of a comprehensive solution, that one throat to choke. What do you tell them?
Cohen: I tell them to come to Akamai. If you can help transform a business and you can do it in a way that is operationally more efficient at a lower cost, you’ve got the winning combination.
Gardner: And this is also I suppose not just an Akamai play, but is really an ecosystem play, because we’re talking about working in coordination with cloud providers, with other technology suppliers and vendors. Tell me a little bit about how the ecosystem works and what it takes to create an end-to-end solution?
Cohen: In order to solve this problem as it relates to access anywhere and pervasive connectivity on any device, you definitely need to strike a bunch of partnerships. Given Akamai’s presence has been in the internet and the ISPs, the types of partnerships that are required are getting your footprints inside of the corporate network, to be able to traverse over what we call hybrid cloud networks -- corporate users inside of the private network that need to reach out the public clouds for example.
It requires partnerships with the cloud providers as well, so that people who are standing up new applications on infrastructure and platform as service environments have a seamless integrated experience. It also requires partnerships with other types of networks, like the mobile networks, as well as the service providers themselves.
Gardner: And looking at this from a traditional internet value proposition, tell us, for those who might not be that familiar with Akamai, what your legacy and your heritage is, and what some of the products are that you have now, so that we can start thinking about what we might look forward to in the future.
Cohen: Akamai has been in business for more than 12 years now. We help business innovators move forward with their Internet business models. A decade ago, that was really consumer driven. Most people were thinking about things like, "I've got this website. I'm doing some commerce. People want to watch video." That’s really changed in the last decade. Now, you see the internet transforming into enterprise use as well.
Akamai continues to offer the consumer-based services as it relates to improving websites and rich media on the web. But now we have a full suite of services that provide application acceleration over the internet. We allow you to reach users globally while consolidating your infrastructure and getting the same kind of benefits you realize with WAN optimization on your private network, but out over the internet.
And as those applications move outside of the firewall, we’ve got a suite of security services that address the new types of security threats you deal with when you’re out on the web.
Gardner: One of the other things that I hear in the marketplace is the need for data, more analysis, more understanding what’s really taking place. There's been sort of a black box, maybe several black boxes, inside of IT for the business leaders. They don’t always understand what’s going on in the data center, but I'm sure they don’t understand what’s going on in the network.
Is there an opportunity at this juncture, when we start to look for network services bridging across these networks, looking for value added services at that larger network level outside the enterprise, that we can actually bring a better view into what’s going on, on these networks, back to these business leaders and IT leaders? Is there an analysis, a business intelligence benefit from doing this as well?
Cohen: You’re absolutely right. What’s important is not only that you improve the delivery of an application, but that you have the appropriate insight in terms of how the application is performing and how people are using the application so that you can take action and react accordingly.
Just because something has moved out into the cloud or out on the Internet, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have the same kind of real-time personalized analytics that you expect on your private network. That’s an area we’ve invested in, both in our own technology investment, but also with some partnerships that provide real-time reporting and business intelligence in terms of our critical websites and applications.
Gardner: Is there something about the type of applications that we should expect a change? We’ve had some paradigm shifts over the past 20 years. We had mainframe apps, and then client-server apps, and then we've had n-tier apps and Web apps and services orientation is coming, where it is more of a services delivery model.
But, is the mobile cloud, these mega trends that we’re seeing, are fundamentally redefining applications. Are we seeing a different type of what we consider application delivery requirement?
Cohen: A lot of it is very similar, which is the principle of the web. Websites are based on HTML and with HTML5, the web is getting richer, more immersive, and starting to approach that as the same kind of experience you get on your desktop.
What I expect to see is more adoption of standard web languages. It means that you need to use good semantic design principles, as it relates to the way you design your applications. But in terms of optimizing content and building for mobile devices and mobile specific sites, a lot of that is going to be using standard web languages that people are familiar with and that are just evolving and getting better.
Gardner: So maybe a way to rephrase that would be, not that the types of applications are changing, but is there a need to design and build these applications differently, in such a way that they are cloud-ready or hybrid-ready or mobile-ready?
Are there any thoughts that you have as someone who is really focused on the network of saying, "I wish I could to talk to these developers early on, when they’re setting up the requirements, so that we could build these apps for their ability to take advantage of this more heterogeneous cloud and/or multiple networks environment?"
Cohen: There's slightly a different spin on that one, Dana, which is, can we go back to the developers and get them to build on a standard set of tools that allow them to deal with the different types of connected devices out in the market? If you build one code base based on HTML, for example, could you take that website that you've built and be able to render it differently in the cloud and allow it to adapt on the fly for something like an iPhone, an Android, a BlackBerry, a 7-inch tablet, or a 9-inch tablet?
If I were to go back to the developers, I’d ask, "Do you really need to build different websites or separate apps for all these different form factors, or is there a better way to build one common source, a code, and then adapt it using different techniques in the network, in the cloud that allow you to reuse that investment over and over again?"
Gardner: So part of the solution to the many screens problem isn’t more application interface designs, but perhaps a more common basis for the application and services, and let the network take care of those issues on a screen to screen basis. Is that closer?
Cohen: That’s exactly right. More and more of the intelligence is actually moving out to the cloud. We’ve already seen this on the video side. In the past people had to use lots of different formats and bit rates. Now what they’re doing is taking that stuff and saying, "Give me one high quality source." Then all of the adaptation capabilities that are going to be done in the network, in the cloud, just simplify that work from the customer.
I expect exactly the same thing to happen in the enterprise, where the enterprise is one common source of code and a lot of the adaptation capabilities are done, again, that intelligent function inside of the network.
Gardner: I'm afraid we are about out of time, Neil. I really appreciate getting a better understanding of what some of the challenges are as we move into this “post-PC” era.
You've been listening to a sponsored podcast discussion on how the major IT trends of the day are changing the expectations we all have from our networks, and how those networks might rise to the occasion in helping us stay on track in terms of where we want things to go.
I want to thank our guest. We’ve been here with Neil Cohen, Vice President of Product Marketing at Akamai Technologies. Any closing thoughts Neil, on where people might consider the future networks to be and what they might look like?
Cohen: This is the hot topic. The WAN is becoming everything, but you really need to change your views as it relates to not just thinking about what happens inside of your corporate network, but with the movement of cloud, all of the connected devices, all of this quickly becoming the network.
Gardner: Very good. Thanks again. This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. I also want to thank our audience for joining, and welcome them to come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Akamai Technologies.
Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion on how networks services must support growing application and media delivery demands. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2011. All rights reserved.
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