How ‘Speed Kills’ in the World of Cloud-Driven Networking

Speed is what IT is all about, and if your product doesn't have it, it eventually will be surpassed in the market.


Back in the 1970s, there were public service announcements with the catchy title “Speed Kills,” sponsored by the Do It Now Foundation. They warned teens about the very real dangers of death from taking methamphetamines, otherwise known as the opioid stimulant speed. The late keyboard player, Ray Manzarek of the Doors, did a Los Angeles radio public service announcement about Speed Kills in 1969, and Frank Zappa has done a “Speed Kills” spot.

“Speed kills” is also a relevant statement in the world of cloud-driven networking. Speed is what IT is all about. In fact, IT has spoiled users into expecting commands to happen instantaneously and without fail--every time.

So how can speed kill in the world of cloud-driven networking?

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In particular, one of the fastest-growing segments of networking is the management and orchestration of Wi-Fi and network switching from the cloud, running as an application. Aerohive, Cisco Meraki and several other companies are now providing this software. (Note: Last August, Extreme Networks acquired Aerohive and subsequently announced ExtremeCloud IQ, which integrates a proven, third-generation cloud management architecture with Extreme’s end-to-end enterprise networking solutions portfolio).

But being in the cloud and being cloud-native and cloud-driven aren’t synonymous. Here is a list of relevant data points on this topic.

Data Point No. 1: First Option: Go Mainstream Cloud

One potential solution can be “in the cloud” with a widely-distributed privately-built cloud installed at a number of co-lo’s. This approach uses whatever tools the builder thinks appropriate but doesn’t benefit from, nor is aligned with, the mainstream cloud ecosystems that are driven by the top three hyperscalers. This means feature velocity is slow and the ability to add new classes of applications is limited.

Data Point No. 2: Second Option: Let VMware Handle It for You

Another way to build a cloud solution is with a VM-oriented product hosted at a major cloud provider. This type of solution tends to be expensive to operate and is limited by the capabilities available on the hosted cloud. In both of these cases it is generally true that the cloud can’t be configured to run in a hybrid private cloud model either. Further, since neither of these can fully take advantage of scale out architectures, they require very careful human attention to avoid outages, which none-the-less do occur and can last for many hours or even into days.

Data Point No. 3: Third Option: Use Open Source to Roll Your Own

The third model for architecting a cloud is to build a truly portable third-generation cloud constructed from open source components using an advanced microservices-based model. This model has multiple advantages. First, being built using a microservices approach lends itself to a highly-automated and scale out-oriented solution. This enables a very highly-available system that is dramatically less likely to fail. Think seven “9”s resiliency. Second, by careful design, this solution can be operated on any cloud, or an on-premise private cloud or in an enterprise hybrid cloud hosted in the customer’s cloud provider of choice. This offers a great deal of flexibility.

Data Point No. 4: Choosing the Right Cloud is Key to Success

For example, a cloud service for retailers might be hosted in Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure, whereas other customers may use AWS, and still others may prefer an Azure-based solution. Most important however is speed, and “speed kills.” In particular, a microservices model enables each component to be developed independently and at high speed. Think of it this way: a Gen 1 or Gen 2 cloud that isn’t a cloud-native microservices-based approach is like 40 different cooperating modules of software competing in a 40-person potato sack race. Can they all move together? Sure. Can they go fast? No way. Microservices by contrast is more akin to these 40 modules each running at the speed they need or want, and all communicating over a multi-channel walkie-talkie. Dramatically faster. 

Data Point No. 5: So How Does ‘Speed Kill’?

So where does “speed kills” come from? In the evolution of any species or system, the species that can evolve the fastest also improves the fastest, and in time it out-competes the slower, clunkier species. The species left behind either die out or find a small survivable niche. Said differently, the quickly evolving species kill off the others–or, “speed kills.” Alternatively, it could be stated as “speed kills competitors.”

A logical question might be “What does this look like in practice?” Here are some hypothetical examples: In the marketplace, each vertical industry may have an affinity for a particular cloud provider or cloud type, or may prefer to avoid certain cloud providers for a variety of reasons. Retailers may prefer Azure or GCP over AWS, for instance. Given how many enterprise IoT providers are working with Azure, there may be certain customers with a preference for an Azure cloud so that cloud-to-cloud communications stays within the same cloud. A health-care provider may prefer GCP due to HIPAA requirements. Here, a third-gen portable microservices cloud could be easily available in each of these situations and could even be customized to the users of each cloud solution.

Data Point No. 6: How AI, ML Tools Are Used is a Factor

Another way that “speed kills” might express itself is in how ML and AI tools are leveraged. This is super difficult in a first gen cloud, not simple in a VM-like cloud, but can be especially powerful in a properly constructed third gen cloud. In a third gen cloud, there are also a few choices. One solution is a do-it-yourself AI approach. This model can be highly optimized, but it is generally slower to evolve and more cumbersome, because it can’t use the underlying native cloud’s own rapidly-evolving tool chains and ecosystems. The “go-native” model takes advantage of the chosen cloud’s infrastructure for maximum efficiency and speed.

Data Point No. 7: ‘Speed Kills’ Can Help Launch New Classes of Apps

Yet a third way “speed kills” benefits can be delivered is by the natural capability to introduce not only new features but entirely new classes of applications. Think about this for simplicity as new tabs on the cloud application itself. Clicking a new tab might activate a cloud security application. Click the “free 120-day trial” button, and away you go. What about a new network evaluation tab? You click the free trial button, and the app compares, contrasts and benchmarks the performance of your network versus other similar-sized networks both within your industry and across other industries. You get the idea.

Data Point No. 8: Recent Examples of 'Speed Kills'

Finally, here are some simple historic examples of “speed kills.” Remember portable electronic devices called MP3 players? How about small portable devices called candy bar phones? There used to be very useful handheld electronic organizer products people called Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs for short. There used to be very small portable digital cameras, much less capable than my DSLR, but very handy when convenience was paramount. There used to be handheld voice recorders. There were even phone/email machines often referred to as a “Crack-berries,” otherwise called a Blackberry. All of these were killed by the smartphone. The smartphone started late by comparison, but the combination of speed through the app store and sheer convenience resulted in the death of all of these other products.

It’s also interesting that neither Apple nor Samsung were big players in any of the first or second generations of any of the other devices that went extinct. This simply shows the power of speed, indeed.

Eric Broockman is CTO at Extreme Networks.