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Data Centers

October 01, 2011

The Era of the Application

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of InfoTECH

There is a fundamental lack of application awareness and management in the network today. Data centers are built to deliver applications and services; however they are still managed as large networks.

Individual networking components are managed as isolated, single-point devices. A networking router, for example, is managed as though it does nothing more than route IP traffic in a void, yet applications are 100 percent dependent on that router working as expected. Organizational and data center networks are currently viewed as a series of individual objects to be managed by individual groups, but there is no overarching view of how those components relate to each other and the rest of the infrastructure, or how those components all function together to deliver applications to users.

Managing the entire infrastructure as individual components hampers IT, in that it requires too many moving parts within different groups to adequately manage and control application delivery to users and to other services in the data center. This convoluted and isolated view of the infrastructure becomes a challenge for data center management, troubleshooting, and agile models such as self-service provisioning because there is no understanding of how the infrastructure components come together to deliver an application.

Despite this antiquated method IT often uses to manage the data center, applications are evolving and beginning to take center stage. This shift is forcing enterprise IT departments to start managing everything with an application-centric view rather than starting with devices and objects and piecing components together to deliver the application. This shift is largely driven by the push to adopt cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS (News - Alert)), where the application becomes the most important component and the infrastructure becomes commoditized.

Managing applications is much more complex today than it was just five years ago. On the back end, applications can now reside anywhere, whether within or outside of the enterprise data center. Administrators can deploy applications between different cloud providers, run them as SaaS applications, and even spread them geographically between data centers on different continents. And with virtualization, data centers are moving away from a one-to-one, server-to-application model; resources are shrinking while services are continuing to grow. On the front end, users are demanding new access models from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The applications themselves are also moving to a much more data-rich model and relying on inter-application communication with APIs, which increase system and network resource requirements while also introducing new security threats. Yet despite this rapid mentality shift in enterprise IT where the app is king, the fundamental infrastructure hasn’t adapted. Managing application delivery isn’t just about network components – it’s also about context and understanding how users are interacting with applications in real time. Total application delivery management means controlling the network for the types of applications, users and access conditions.

As organizations begin moving to more modular cloud and SaaS models, managing applications becomes more important than building infrastructure. Many of the benefits that come from moving to a more agile model are not associated with managing the infrastructure; yet managing application deployments, performance, and availability in cloud and SaaS environments is often difficult because the application is still tied to infrastructure. Organizations need to bind application control, visibility and management to the infrastructure components required to deliver those applications and services beyond the data center.

At its core the application delivery network needs to support an architecture that can transform a network from a static resource comprising isolated components to a unified, flexible, and resilient pool of resources directly associated with an application or service. This will enable rapid network deployment, integration, management, and visibility at the application layer.

New application delivery models require a change in how administrators view and manage the network by moving management responsibility from the network components to the application. An application delivery controller that adapts the network to the application will provide complete control over the entire application delivery infrastructure by managing the application rather than the network, enabling organizations to manage the security, optimization, availability, health and performance of mission-critical applications running the business.

Alan Murphy is senior technical marketing manager at F5 Networks (News - Alert).


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Edited by Stefania Viscusi