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The Achilles’ Heel of Cloud Services
By Daniel Joseph Barry

Cloud services provide a new and promising opportunity for enterprises to address the growing complexity of IT. The availability of smartphones and the expectation of immediate and simple access to both private and company-specific information on a global basis are driving demand for the centralization of IT services and the related competence required to support them effectively.

Cloud service providers have established the necessary competence and IT infrastructure to deliver on these demands, but there is one potential Achilles’ heel that can present a challenge: assuring cloud service quality and performance.

One of the fundamental precepts of cloud services is the cloud itself, which in most cases can be read as the Internet. But how can a cloud service provider assure quality delivery of services across an entity it does not control? Service-level agreements (SLAs) can be entered with communication service providers, but how do you ensure these SLAs are being met? If they aren’t, how does this affect the services you provide? Can you compensate for this so that the end-user impact can be minimized?

Remote testing provides part of the solution. The ability to emulate service experience for potential users both before service is provided and during service when issues occur can help in understanding the characteristics of the cloud connecting customers to the cloud service.

Technology already exists that makes remote testing possible. Traffic generation technology is available that can be used to stress-test networks using typical user traffic. Traffic can be generated that will fully load user connections to the cloud service, allowing the individual connection to be tested but also allowing the cloud service itself to be stress tested if many of these sessions are established simultaneously.

Advanced network adapters now provide synchronized traffic generation features, which can be used by original equipment manufacturers to build traffic generation systems based on standard servers with extreme time precision. Multiple traffic generation systems using these features can be synchronized with nanosecond; all they need is a reliable clock source, which could be GPS, CDMA, or IEEE1588/PTP. With this technology, remote cloud testing can be performed with extreme precision, as each Ethernet frame can be time stamped with nanosecond resolution.

With this type of technology, cloud service providers could precisely control when traffic loads or simulated user sessions are started and use packet-capture technology to analyze and measure the characteristics of the cloud connecting these traffic generators. This can include latency measurements with extreme accuracy, packet drop analysis, number of transmission control protocol resends, total amount of data exchanged, etc.

Because the traffic generation is synchronized, traffic generators can be located anywhere in the world as long as they have access to a reliable clock source.

The combination of synchronized traffic generators and packet-capture probes provides a remote testing infrastructure that can help cloud service providers overcome the Achilles’ heel issue of assuring cloud services even when you don’t control the cloud itself.

— Daniel Joseph Barry is vice president of marketing at Napatech.