Okay so networking fabric wars, OpenFlow, and SDN startups are all the buzz in the networking space right now and while it is fun to speculate and debate the topic, it is time to get back to basics. Sure we need to decouple the network plumbing from its current rigid, fixed, physical design, but let’s be honest this is a non-trivial task that will not happen overnight. It is going to take 5 to 10 years to fully evolve and even then traditional network equipment is still going to be out there. Google and other service providers have a more immediate business need to flatten and commoditize the network layer sooner rather than later, but the typical enterprise customer does not have the luxury to play with technologies that are still a work in progress. Google and other service providers will push the technological boundaries to their limits and beyond and the rest of us will enjoy the fruits of their labor down the road, but for the moment performance remains a major hot button. Two turnkey solutions that we follow that address this issue are application delivery controllers (ADCs)/load balancers (LBs) and WAN optimization controllers (WOCs). I have been wondering what the next major drivers for these two technologies might be. I believe the move to web-based content and applications will help fuel market growth for both. I think also another WOCs catalyst appears to be VDI most likely driven by increased mobile and tablet sales. VDI appears to be getting a boost as companies look for ways to make corporate content available to users on mobile devices while at the same time keeping it secure. For more thoughts on VDI, please refer to Jim Frey’s blog post “VDI–the next “Killer” app for the network?”

The stimulus for this blog came about after I read a recent F5 case study that talks about the use of the BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM) ADCs to provide high availability and fast-loading web pages for a digital food content provider. This study is a great example of delivering web content, on a global scale, to multiple device types over the public Internet 7×24. This case study highlights two interesting points. First, it points to the challenges of using the public Internet for content and application delivery. Second, it demonstrates the criticality of performance and in this case it is a make or break factor for this particular business model.

The customer is Allrecipes.com – a content provider that specializes in topics pertaining to food, primarily as a large global community recipe swap. Before you give a derisive snort, first look at the numbers. The company claims a membership base of 7 million users with 25 million unique visitors to their sites each month and over 750 million visitors on an annual basis. The company experiences extreme seasonal traffic spikes with the largest being just prior to and on Thanksgiving Day resulting in a doubling of typical traffic volume from 1 million pages viewed per hour to 2.2 million. The company requires that a web page load in less than 1 second. The company maintains four global datacenters and has websites in 17 countries and the content is localized from the corporate headquarters in Seattle. Customers access the site from 160 countries worldwide. The company has also begun publishing applications for tablets and smartphones that tap into this content. The company maintains blogs as well as being active on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  The primary challenge for the company is to be able to deliver this content 7×24, globally, on multiple device types. The reason that Allrecipes.com implemented the F5 solution is for primarily the following reasons:

  • No single point of failure
  • Consistent levels of performance regardless of point of access or type of device
  • Ability to offload tasks from the web servers to the F5 devices
  • Ability to customize through iRules to gain specific performance tweaks
  • Reduce page load times to under 1 second
  • Ease of use and management
  • 7 x 24 support

As enterprise customers look towards the public Internet as a delivery mechanism, lessons can be learned from companies such as Allrecipes.com. When making use of the public Internet there are aspects of the delivery model that you no longer have control over. So it is very important to test the viability of deployment over the Internet to make sure performance falls within reasonable parameters under a number of different conditions such as geographic location and device type. The next step is to determine where the sticking points are in the model and decide if there is anyway to iron out the wrinkles. If the web servers are subject to traffic spikes, then an ADC/LB would be a big help in evening out performance problems during high traffic volumes. If the problem is more complex and exists along the delivery path, then there are many options ranging from classic WAN optimization solutions for branch connectivity over private WAN links to a multitude of hybrid solutions that take advantage of both private and public Internet connections such as those from Akamai, Talari or Aryaka to name a few. Pushing applications out to the Internet is not as simple as it might appear at face value and requires careful strategic planning for not just performance concerns, but security issues as well. So before embracing the Internet as a low cost delivery mechanism, understand that it requires a support infrastructure to ensure its success.

You may still be wondering why I chose this example – it is because it points to how rapidly and globally our consumption and distribution of content has evolved. This simple little community recipe swap has morphed into a four datacenter, globally distributed entity serving up 2.2 million pages of content per hour during seasonal spikes in traffic. People are accessing content from their device of choice (DoC) 7×24. If you don’t think that this will impact how the corporate enterprise interacts with its own customers and employees, then you are asleep at the networking switch. Long before the dusts settle on the fabric/SDN/OpenFlow debate, corporate enterprise IT departments risk fighting a losing battle to control content, device, and access, if they do not find a way to embrace the shifting sands of consumer driven compute and demand.

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