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The Wedding – The Cloud and the Network

July 19, 2010

Here is one simple fact – Cloud computing is really good for ISPs.  Really good.  Moving tools from the data center – where either your LAN or dedicated inter-office WAN covered your data needs, to the cloud – at a remote data center where access is handled either by pure IP access, or (hopefully) IPsec tunnels, leads to more network needs.  As your business becomes more dependent on services held in far off data centers, you become more dependent on your IP provider.

The irony here is that most ISPs are pretty monolithic, old school organizations (and cloud is a new school dynamic way of thinking).  Try and make AT&T or Verizon move fast.  You can’t.  Even your tier-2 ISPs, who should be a bit more responsive, are still slow and half the time, miss their own SLAs.  T1 pulls take weeks to install.  Metro Ethernet, DS-3 and any form of optical is even more expensive runs and lead time to get installed.  If you have fairly high uptime requirements, getting BGP up is a pain in the rear so you can multi-home – getting two of these firms on the phone to get something going is a pain (ignoring you have to get a /24 – no matter what, albeit ARIN is pretty laid back on this, but it explains helps to IP space burnout since you’re probably NAT’ing your desktops).  Even if you are small enough to only need cable or DSL, it’s still a rough go – count yourself lucky you’ve not grown into high-uptime, high-dollar, high-headche network services.

It’s time for a tip – be careful about your ISP selection.  Make sure they are responsive to your needs.  I have one provider where the sales person returns my emails quickly, but their NOC would probably enjoy hearing my violent demise on the phone.  Another where I rarely hear from the sales guy, but every ticket I’ve ever opened was handled quickly – 3 days to a BGP spin up sounds good after the SLA busting, week and a half BGP nightmare I’m still going through with their peer provider.  If you’re in small enough business to only have a single provider – stick with the cheaper consumer stuff for as long as possible, then break out for as good of service you can afford – and if Metro Ethernet is in your area, give it a shot.  It is going to be as reliable as more traditional T/DS/OC links?  No.  But dollar for dollar, you’re not going to beat it.  Tie it with a T1 or two from another provider, do BGP, and off you go.

Another point – with your cloud provider, remember that geographical distance and AS distance are both important. For example – in Austin, Rackspace is pretty much at most two AS hops away.  On Time Warner Cable, it’s TWC to DFW-> Above DFW -> Rackspace in DFW.  Amazon?  Austin -> Houston -> Dallas -> Level 3 to  Atlanta? -> Level 3 Washington (DC?) -> Amazon.  Which one is going to store files faster?  Of course the one only a hop or two away.

Too often, the internetworking portion of Cloud is forgotten (the ISPs just hope they don’t have to build out that much new capacity – just sell new capacity, which means more money and more BMWs) – the systems and storage guys drive this conversation.  In SMB IT, where you may wear every hat (I know I do), you don’t have a choice but to consider the implication of first, your ISP and how it will react and respond to your new data needs, and second how your cloud provider will interact with your ISPs.  The nature of these providers mean they peer with lots of firms – if you’re on say, Sprint or AT&T, you’re probably one hop away, and if you’ve got the bandwidth, they will probably let you use it.  If you’re on Bob’s ISP and Video Rental (don’t laugh – in the late 90’s the video rental place back home in Small Town, USA was the local ISP.  Had a T1 and some modems – and everyone had to be happy unless you could afford at T1!), be aware that your needs and their abilities are probably not going to sync up.   Identifying an ISP is kind of like a marriage – you’ve got to find someone who makes you happy.  The sparks of early romance won’t always be there, but you don’t want to go home at night and think about leaving your ISP for a pillow and some cheap wine.

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