FEATURE: Performance issues cloud content delivery options

Why rush to anger your global audience? Clouds may help to scale your infrastructure, but the performance problems still remain

By JEFF KIM

Nearly every Cloud service provider extols the virtues of Cloud as a means for rapidly and cost-effectively reaching a global audience with your business applications. Even the more measured Cloud service providers state that your organisation’s critical applications should move into the Cloud, but more likely into a private Cloud, so that you may obtain a measure of security and performance guarantees (SLAs) combined with the time-to-market benefits of public Cloud. But in the end, whether you leverage the public Cloud or a private Cloud, you are still just getting Cloud. And that means unpredictable performance of your business applications in front of a global audience. 

The underlying causes of Cloud’s poor application performance

As Amazon and other public Cloud service providers use more of their shared Cloud capacity during the Internet’s busiest days and times, your application performance suffers, slowing to a crawl in many regions of the world. There is no overcoming this issue when depending on public Cloud services. This is why most organisations that have progressed beyond the most nascent start-up stages do not depend on public Cloud services for business-critical applications.
So along come the providers of private Clouds with SLAs in hand to promise steadier, more predictable Cloud performance. Can they deliver? The answer is “yes,” but not to the degree you would assume or require for a global audience. The most glaring deficit of private Clouds is their poor performance when serving applications to a broadly dispersed audience of end users ― particularly when those end users access applications from outside the core network(s) on which the private Cloud’s data centres reside. Even though the Internet moves at the speed of light, distance-induced latency is a critical flaw on the Internet for Cloud-based applications. Your end-users may receive great performance near the Cloud’s point of presence, but it quickly degrades with distance. What does this mean to you when considering the use of a private Cloud for business applications? It means that you need to know exactly where your global end users are located. Moreover, you need to know their locations relative to your private Cloud infrastructure and data centres. Few businesses can identify this relationship, and even fewer private Cloud service providers would even consider trying to answer this riddle. The fact is that most businesses with a global audience of application end users cannot predict from which networks and physical locations end users will arise, and this has led to poor application performance from both public and private Clouds when it comes to global application delivery.

Cloud’s premise: never end-user focused

Cloud services entered organisations via the IT department and were quickly accepted by budget-conscious CFOs who viewed them as a way to globalize applications faster and cheaper. But a focus on “fast and cheap” does little to address the wants and needs of your applications’ end users. For this reason, numerous companies that once depended on Clouds to deliver their applications are now seeking alternatives and/or enhancements to their method of delivering dynamic website content and business applications. They still desire rapid global roll-out of application delivery with low overhead, but they now also require high performance in multiple geographies, particularly those businesses that collaborate with employees and supply chain partners on different continents. The problem is that most Clouds do not sufficiently cover the globe at a high level of performance. Most can deliver strong performance in North America and Western Europe, but they experience severe performance degradation when serving applications to Asia Pacific and other emerging market areas. And for the majority of businesses leveraging a global supply chain or an extended enterprise of employees in lower cost regions, poor application performance strangles business productivity.

Better Application Service from the Cloud is not Cloud

For companies that want high-performing applications, regardless of end user location, the fastest and most cost-effective avenue is to leverage the services of a next-generation content delivery network, or CDN. Prior to the existence of Clouds, CDNs were established as global networks of servers (located in the public Internet’s networks) that cached businesses’ website content in servers around the world and sped that content to local end users from local servers upon request. In this way, CDNs have always been Cloud-based but never named as such.  Next-generation CDN service providers have improved upon the original CDN concept by enabling high-performance delivery of dynamic applications over a similar server network that leverages the public internet. By combining persistent open connections between a business’s application and end users, next-generation CDNs obviate the need for multiple communication round-trips across the globe when users access an application. This reduces application latency by up to 90%. Combining high-performance application sessions with local delivery of cacheable content, next-generation CDNs optimize all elements of a Web page surrounding and including the application.

For businesses with global offices and supply chains, this means that mission-critical applications can now be accessed by end users in China, India, Eastern Europe and other emerging markets in a matter of 2-4 seconds rather than the 20-30 seconds experienced with Cloud services. Such was the case for Historic Futures, a small but growing company that delivers a supply chain application for some of the world’s largest brands.

Historic Futures (HF) provides a unique Internet-based traceability service known as String that empowers brands and retailers to visualize their entire supply chain, from primary production to finished product. Used by hundreds of businesses, including Levi’s, Tesco, and Wal-Mart, String helps leading brands assure customers that their product quality matches branding claims. Every day, thousands of users from these brands and their suppliers access the HF website and String to input traceability data. Rather than risk the long delays associated with Cloud services, HF enlisted a next-generation CDN that offers dynamic application delivery services, and in particular one that could do so within India, China and Bangladesh. The performance has been outstanding, and globally dispersed users enter data into String as if the application resides in a local data centre.

Centralisation today: faster, cheaper and more controlled

Companies like HF have been able to satisfy both their application performance needs as well as their cost-reduction needs with CDN services. This is because they can centralise their application infrastructure at one location while receiving Cloud-like benefits from their CDN. But they realise further benefits that they had not anticipated. By maintaining their own origin server for their applications, they maintain complete security control while achieving much higher application performance and vastly higher rates of end-user satisfaction.

To determine which method ― Cloud or CDN ― best suits your organisation, you need only investigate a few areas. First, how important is application performance in Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, and other emerging market regions? If not that important, a private Cloud may be the right choice. If those regions are (or will soon be) important, the CDN option would be better. Second, is security a concern as you go global? If so, a CDN would be the obvious choice, because it enables you to maintain entire control from a centralised location from where you control application access. The CDN will maintain open sessions per your rules, handling performance over the Internet’s middle miles. Finally, do some performance testing.

This is a very easy step to take, as many performance measurement companies such as Gomez and Coremetrics routinely measure that performance of both CDNs and Cloud providers around the world.

With just a little bit of homework and self-analysis, your organisation can achieve cost-effective and rapid deployment of applications to a global audience. But now you can delight your end users while doing so.

Jeff Kim is Chief Operating Officer US/EMEA for CDNetworks


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Filed under Cloud Computing, Content Delivery Networks (CDN), Enterprise Cloud, Private Cloud, Public Cloud

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