Imagine this: You are the network administrator for a global enterprise doing business on three continents. When your network goes down, your company loses millions of dollars a day. If hackers were to steal your customer data, regulators could fine you a lot more.
You're not crazy: For mission-critical applications and data, you operate your own private cloud using your own secure network infrastructure on your own company's premises.
But for routine apps and interactions, that's overkill. Besides, you need flexibility; some days there are wild fluctuations in network demand before the Asia goes to sleep and as Latin America begins to stir. That's why you connect to various public clouds to service things that aren't mission-critical.
The apps your users depend upon would get really cranky if there were any glitches, of course. But some new software lets you manage the public clouds and your own cloud as though it's all one. Everything is transparent to the apps, the users, and your boss. It's seamless and secure. It's all good… until a data center melts down in a place you've barely heard of. It brings one of the public clouds to its knees.
You pick up your tablet, glance at the Seamless Cloud Graph graphical user interface, and delete the connections between your network and that public cloud. You tap two or three times again to bring on some new public cloud resources. Problem solved. You go back to cleaning out your in-box.
This cool-and-collected scenario could play out soon at enterprises and service providers around the world, in part due a Cisco team breaking new ground on network programmability.
Understanding Seamless Cloud
"Cloud administrators or developers can easily specify how they want their cloud just by using the Seamless Cloud Graph, which is a simple graphical user interface," says Principal Engineer Masum Hasan. Masum came up with the concept and is the project's technology lead. "Then another piece of software, the Seamless Cloud Controller, translates that down to the programming of the infrastructure and binds the resources together automatically at the network level. "
A Cisco Tech Fund award in November 2012 has allowed the team to prototype the technology and test it in a customer's laboratory.
Cisco has closely collaborated with France Telecom-Orange on some aspects of his project. "The great advantage of a prototype is that you can demo it with customers and actually show it to other teams within Cisco," says CTO of Cisco Services, Monique Morrow.
Value Add for Customers
Service providers everywhere are under tremendous competitive pressure. They have huge investments in data centers and other infrastructure that they'd like to leverage to improve efficiency and develop new ways to make money. For enterprises doing business in several countries, the complexities can be exponential. For example, regulatory restrictions on what kinds of data can be transferred from one country to another vary widely. Or, for a variety of reasons, an administrator might suddenly need to restrict network users on one continent to resources that are located just on that continent.
Not that long ago, changes to a network could take days, weeks, or even months. Developing a new service from scratch might take a year or more, says Monique, who operated the world's first Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network in the 1990s.
Using Seamless Cloud, new network configurations and services can be working in minutes. Administrators can also establish automatic performance parameters – so the network can increase bandwidth as needed, or disconnect from a source if it detects security issues.
The team's ultimate goal is a product that can be handed off in the next couple of years to the business units to market and sell.
Seamless Cloud is a bold initiative and it's right in Cisco's sweet spot. "This truly uses the network as a platform, as a binding point," Masum says.
The Innovators Behind Seamless Cloud
In addition to Masum and Monique, the team members are Technical Leader Elaine Cheong, who focuses on Advanced Application Controllers on Seamless Cloud and the first of four interns funded by the Tech Fund, Darren Yuxi Hu and Mohammad Rahman. Darren and Mohammad are final-year Ph.D. candidates in computer science at the University of California, Davis.
The Seamless Cloud framework prototype is a distributed software system leveraging complex network end-to-end, including multi-AS MPLS L3 VPN network, Openstack Cloud controllers and Cisco SDN framework OnePK.