Why Moving Productivity Apps to the Cloud could Backfire

By Kenny Gilbert, CIO, InvenSense

Kenny Gilbert, CIO, InvenSense

If you don’t fix this one thing, expect endless complaints from unhappy employees

As productivity applications move to the cloud, new problems emerge. Gone are the days when we controlled our own LANs and server farms. Well, those days are not entirely gone, but they will be soon.

"If you can’t see, in real-time and historically, how your apps and how the network is performing, all you’re left with are best guesses"

As CIOs, we no longer worry about patching Exchange servers in our own corporate data centers; instead, we must now worry about how cloud-based Office 365 performs over the Internet. As more enterprise applications move to the cloud, we CIOs are forced to deal with a string of service providers and an unpredictable WAN–and that last piece in the value chain is a major, yet often overlooked, problem.

The reality today is that if you don’t fix the WAN, your cloud applications will underperform.

When I joined InvenSense about a year ago, I immediately had multiple employees complaining about the site-to-site performance of our applications as traffic traveled over the WAN. At InvenSense, we supply sensors for a range of use cases, from mobile to industrial to automotive, and our employees need to be able to collaborate effectively, no matter where in the world they are located.

Overhead and Still More Overhead

So, I did what most CIOs do in this situation. I started by looking at tried-and-true solutions, those from incumbents, such as AT&T and Riverbed. The problem was that traditional site-to-site private networking solutions, such as MPLS, are ridiculously expensive. Meanwhile, the extra gear you need to install, such as WAN optimization hardware, in order to optimize those connections and conserve that expensive bandwidth, adds even more overhead. It also adds complexity to your infrastructure, something you have to manage and maintain yourself, which translates into, you guessed it, even more overhead.

As the new CIO at InvenSense, this option was not ideal. I didn’t want to blow a significant chunk of my budget simply fixing the WAN.

Nonetheless, I’ve used these legacy solutions in the past, and I probably would have bitten the bullet and done so again– if it weren’t for the cloud.

Those legacy solutions were designed for old computing paradigms, when everyone was on a PC and all of our apps were behind the firewall in our own data centers. They were not designed to handle the challenges presented by cloud computing.

At InvenSense, we’re already in the middle of a migration to the cloud. Most businesses are even if you’d rather keep the apps in your own data centers, software providers will force your hand. Just look at Microsoft, for instance. So, while we still have some mission-critical apps in our own data center, many other critical apps, such as Office 365, are now in the cloud. I just couldn’t justify spending money to solve yesterday’s problems. After all, that’s a good way for a CIO to lose the confidence of his board.

How to Get LAN-like Performance over the WAN

Thus, I went searching for alternatives. Eventually, I found a company that has a novel approach, a company that uses the cloud to improve the cloud.

I was a bit skeptical, but I wanted to test this out myself. I scheduled a proof of concept (POC) with the WAN as-a- Service company Aryaka, and rather than taking months to get started, as would have been the case with MPLS, we had the POC up and running within an hour. And immediately, people stopped complaining about application performance issues.

After a month of enjoying a LAN-like experience over the WAN, I knew we couldn’t go back. Better still, while Aryaka can accelerate site-to-site application delivery, it can also accelerate applications from any cloud data center.

Aryaka has moved complicated hardware, such as WAN optimization, to the cloud. This gives them agility that legacy incumbents can’t match. More importantly, they’ve also built out an MPLS alternative, a private enterprise network based on a global footprint of POPs that is strategically distributed so 100 percent of the world’s business users are within 30 milliseconds (latency) of an Aryaka POP. Aryaka’s POPs are also within 1-5 milliseconds from all major cloud service providers.

In other words, it’s like they’ve turned the WAN into one giant, global LAN–at least that’s how end users experience it. As a result, shortly after the POC, I started connecting our global offices in a fraction of the time that it would have taken to deploy a single MPLS connection.

Don’t Forget About Cloud Performance Issues

As companies migrate more and more applications to the cloud, the problems CIOs focus on tend to revolve around security and privacy. Those are important factors, but you can’t under estimate the importance of reliable, excellent application performance over the WAN.

Years of experience and the consumerization of IT have taught knowledge workers to expect this. If a website is slow to load or an application hangs, people bail out. That’s our new reality, and we as CIOs must adapt to it.

So, when you move productivity applications to the cloud and you don’t have a plan to fix the WAN, don’t be surprised when employee morale and productivity suffer.

Worse yet, when something breaks, all of the various service providers you’re relying on will all too often pass the buck, claiming it’s really someone else’s problem. Your app provider will blame your ISP, who may then try to place the blame on a security provider or even another ISP who handles your traffic along the way.

It’s maddening, and it’s why any WAN solution you turn to must have built-in visibility and world-class customer support. If you can’t see, in real-time and historically, how your apps and how the network is performing, all you’re left with are best guesses. And if you can’t get someone helpful to take your call the minute something breaks, customer service should really be called something else. The Customer Frustration Center, perhaps?

As you tackle your own app performance problems, here are a few questions you can ask of service providers to ensure that you get a solution that won’t be obsolete minutes after the ink has dried on your contract.

10 Questions to Ask WAN Service Providers

1. How long will it take to deploy?
2. Can you accelerate both traditional behind-the-firewall applications and cloud-based ones?
3. Do I need to buy anything extra, such as WAN optimization hardware, to ensure consistently high performance?
4. Do you offer built-in, real-time, network-wide visibility, or do I need to purchase a separate monitoring solution?
5. What is the total cost of ownership when these add-ons are factored in?
6. What sorts of SLAs do you offer?
7. What happens if I need to add another site?
8. What if I need to add another site tomorrow?
9. Do you provide guaranteed throughput to each site?
10. What happens if I need more (or less) bandwidth? What is the process for scaling up (or down)?