It seems that everyone is rushing to cash in on the cloud computing craze, and the stampede includes a growing number of mobile and wireless suppliers. So does "cloud creep" represent enterprise nirvana? Or a potential road to ruin?
According to Gartner, the fastest-growing segment within the IT market is cloud compute services, which is part of the cloud-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) segment. Cloud compute services were expected to grow 48.7 percent in 2012 to $5.0 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 2011. In the mobile and wireless arena, benefits such as infinite scalability, rapid activation, and third-party expertise are pulling more and more infrastructure services offsite, letting your company meet broader needs by signing with a single provider.
For example, wireless LAN management that has traditionally occurred on the customer premises has been available for a while in the form of cloud services from Wi-Fi vendors Aerohive, AirTight Networks, Aruba Networks, Meraki (recently purchased by Cisco), Motorola, Ruckus Wireless, and others.
Other services are getting layered on, too: Aerohive, for example, released a mobile device management (MDM) application programming interface (API) to combine its wireless access point (AP) infrastructure with third-party MDM systems. JAMF Software is the company's first such partner, and Aerohive has struck a similar value-added integration partnership with AirWatch. Similarly, Aruba Networks has integrated its APs with MDM vendor SOTI's MobiControl system, and Cisco has struck MDM partnerships with AirWatch, Good Technology, MobileIron, and Zenprise.
Seeking to help retailers better understand consumers' in-store behavior, Aerohive has partnered with Euclid (a retail analytics company) on Wi-Fi, embedding a Euclid sensor into Aerohive APs. Such partnerships are enabling WLAN vendors to offer more than basic Wi-Fi connectivity and management to mobile enterprises.
These are just a few examples that relate to mobile services in the cloud: a number of different disciplines are converging there, too. The result is that the network is delivering value-added services beyond just connectivity. In many cases, this means a bigger bang for your cloud service buck: some companies even throw in extra services at no charge as a way to better compete for your wireless infrastructure business.
When to Jump
At what point do certain mobility features become commoditized such that it makes sense to push them out into the cloud? And then, how do your mobile and wired infrastructures meld?
Via partnerships such as those mentioned, Wi-Fi vendors' own secure on-boarding capabilities are blending with MDM specialists' asset tracking and provisioning functions. Basic MDM can almost be viewed as a commodity at this point. However, more sophisticated derivations of enterprise mobility management - such as mobile application and content management, which involve capabilities such as deploying mobile apps from an enterprise app store (EAS) and/or partitioning personal and corporate data - is newer and won't likely become a bundled-in freebie for some time to come.
Wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) services for discovering rogue devices attempting to connect to your network are also becoming table stakes capabilities in Wi-Fi infrastructure. A few vendors (e.g., AirTight, Motorola AirDefense) even offer full-blown cloud-based WIPS. Such monitoring capabilities, too, can be layered into cloud-based WLAN management. But how does cloud WIPS security fit with non-mobile security?
As more enterprise services mature and migrate to the cloud, there are a few things to be aware of. First, watch out for something akin to what has become known as "server sprawl" in the virtualized data center. It has become so quick and easy for folks to turn up new servers ("instances" of servers in software) that managing them - or even just knowing which ones exist - has become a big IT data center challenge.
Similarly, if integrated value-added services come packaged into WLAN cloud offerings, they can creep willy-nilly into the enterprise as administrators experiment with them. You'll need a cohesive plan for how to manage all of those network-integrated services. And you'll also need a plan for managing both wired and wireless devices, which will all take advantage of the services in the cloud. "Integration" is the name of the game going forward with cloud.
Remember, too, that cloud services rely not only on the local networks where they are hosted but also on WAN access to get to them. Bandwidth needs will grow as you push more and more enterprise mobility services into the cloud, because users will need to traverse the Internet or managed WAN service to get to those services. So WAN optimization/acceleration might eventually be required.
But how do you deploy WAN optimization capabilities, which usually require a matched pair of appliances at either end of the WAN connection, when one end is in the cloud infrastructure run by someone else?
As you might guess: WAN optimization as a service is becoming available, too. With certain providers' equipment, it's possible to turn up a virtual cloud instance of your WAN accelerator at the far end (in the cloud) to match the equipment you have on site.
And so the "cloud creep" continues... a promising trend to eke more value from existing cloud services, but a trend that requires careful consideration and strategic planning.
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