Daily Cloud: Network as a Competitive Weapon

Originally posted to Daily Cloud by Jeff Ferry

Companies increasingly do business with multiple cloud providers. A company might use Office 365 for its email, requiring a connection to Microsoft Azure. Working with SaaS providers like Salesforce.com or Workday requires network connections to those providers. An e-commerce website is likely to be hosted at Amazon Web Services, while its mission-critical enterprise apps might stay on-premise or be deployed at a private cloud provider like New York’s Webair. Webair adds value through its distinctive network strategy. For many customers, Webair designs and builds a network bridge, or a network connection from the customer’s premises to the Webair data center, and then high-bandwidth connections to each of the public cloud providers the customer uses. “We try to give them the best of both worlds, cloud services presented to them as if they were local, and with an SLA [service level agreement] as if the service was on-premise,” says Webair CTO Sagi Brody.

To deliver that, Webair negotiates networking connections from a broad number of telecom and Internet providers. The typical connection is 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) or 10 Gbps. The link goes into a so-called “carrier hotel,” such as one in downtown Manhattan where direct fiber links to AWS, Microsoft Azure, and other public cloud providers can be installed. “We can slice that physical link up to deliver 20 different services,” says Brody. The customer gets a high-quality connection without having to deal with finding and negotiating each one separately. All those connections go into a single port on the customer’s router, economizing on an expensive network asset.

There is one major problem with this approach. Slicing up a large connection relies on a technology called “Virtual Local Area Network” or VLAN. VLANs have been around a long time and have two main disadvantages. One is that a single network is limited to 4,000 VLANs, which may sound like a lot but is not sufficient. The other is that connecting VLANs into the Internet with traditional networking protocols can lead to reliability problems. “Trying to run VLANs through a router is complicated and can get dirty,” says Brody.

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