Shedding Light on Dark Fiber for Data Centers

When evaluating your data center connectivity, there are many reasons to consider dark fiber, including cost control, flexibility, security, and scalability. To quickly understanding the basics of fiber optics, see my blog posting, “Tech Primer: Dark Fiber, Lit and Wavelengths.

Importance of Dark Fiber for Data Centers

The number of internet connected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to reach 20+ billion by the year 2020, according to a recent Gartner report.

Gartner report - IoT growth from 2014 - 2020Likewise, cloud usage has been escalating at a similar rate, year over year. The reliance on cloud platforms such as Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM SoftLayer and Google Cloud also continues to skyrocket, as indicated by cloud revenues seen in this report from Synergy Research Group.

These growth markets are driving enterprises and online businesses to a level of network dependence that is becoming hyper-critical.

Growth of Cloud Providers - Synergy Research Group Report

Connectivity is King

A loss of network connectivity or degraded network performance across a network connection can cause more than the loss of revenue. Poor network performance could even cause the loss of a life in the case of some environments like healthcare, public safety, and the military.

How vital is your network? When stability, along with latency, security, and bandwidth are at the forefront of the decision makers mind, then dark fiber may be the answer.

RagingWire understands that connectivity is of paramount value in a data center. As such, RagingWire has both partnered with connectivity providers and made a significant capital investment in telecommunications infrastructure to service our customer’s unique needs.

For example, in our Sacramento data center campus, we partner with multiple carriers to provide lit and dark fiber services that deliver excellent network performance of ~2ms latency to San Francisco, and ~4ms latency to the South Bay – a location jam-packed with cloud providers.

In our Ashburn, Virginia data center campus, we offer both lit and dark services to multiple carrier hotels and cloud locations, including AWS and Azure, providing sub-millisecond latency between your carrier, your data, and your data center.

In Garland, Texas, within the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, RagingWire has built a fiber network that connects its 1,000,000 square foot of data center campus to over 128 locations in the Dallas and Fort Worth market, including popular carrier hotels and cloud providers.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Dark Fiber

Dark fiber may be the right decision for many of today’s infrastructure connectivity needs, but make sure you go into it with full awareness of its advantages and disadvantages.

The Good:

  • Cost-control: Dark fiber costs the same whether you intend to use 1Gb, 10Gb, or 100Gb.
  • Flexibility: You may run any protocol and any service. You may even choose to install your own multiplexing equipment and slice the fiber into multiple channels (generally 16 channels, but current off-the-shelf hardware allows for up to 160), each usable for 1Gb, 10Gb, or 100Gb.
  • Security: Public access telecommunications networks generally have multiple access points at various nodes throughout the network, whereas dark fiber routes are accessible only at each of the two endpoints of the fiber run.
  • Scalability: Service may be upgraded as required by simply using higher performance equipment. Available bandwidth on dark fiber is limited by only three things: Physics, current technology, and your budget.

The Bad:

  • Cost-control: When your bandwidth requirements are 1Gb or less, lit services will usually be less expensive than fiber when considering the initial lease of fiber and capital outlay for hardware. Additionally, long-distance dark fiber may be more expensive than purchasing a wavelength. You’ll have to do the math and figure out which meets your needs and budget.

The Ugly:

  • Reliability: Your architect will need to design around the fact that there is no built-in fault-tolerance or connectivity failure protection. This will usually require the purchase of a second diverse dark fiber path between your two locations.
  • Scalability and cost-control: Dark fiber is point-to-point. Unlike many other carrier products available, dark fiber does not allow for multiple end-points on a network. It may be necessary to purchase multiple fiber paths for larger networks.


When considering dark fiber from fiber providers instead of lit fiber or carrier services from telecom providers, it is beneficial to map your unique IT connectivity needs with the strengths and weaknesses of dark fiber. This mapping exercise should help shed some light on the best connectivity options for your custom environment.

Connectivity Questions

Is your data center carrier neutral? Carrier neutrality is vital when choosing a data center. You want your data center to freely allow interconnectivity between all carriers and other colocation providers. This protects your interests and allows for future scale, plus it maximizes your flexibility.

What types of lit connectivity are available? It is less important to focus on the number of carriers in the campus; instead focus on whether the carriers you care about are available. Also ask if their direct competitors are available. This will be helpful for bidding – to keep your primary carrier as cost competitive as possible.

Is dark fiber available? If so, where does it go? Does the data center have a dark fiber product or a partnership? Where does it go and is the pricing competitive? Does the data center have lit connectivity options or a partnership?


Tech Primer: Dark Fiber, Lit and Wavelengths

Some IT colleagues have asked me, “What is dark fiber and what’s the difference between lit and wavelengths?” Let’s begin by understanding the basic concepts of fiber optics and the difference between dark and lit fiber.

Difference between dark fiber and lit fiber

Unlike wire, which passes electricity through a metal conductor, fiber optic cables use a specialized glass or plastic allowing for data to be transmitted great distances by passing light through the glass. Fiber that isn't currently being used and has no light passing through it is called dark fiber.

Utilizing this fiber, telecommunications carriers can provide something called “wavelength” services, also known as “waves.” This works by splitting the light into various wavelength groups called colors or “lambdas”. Carriers sell these wavelengths to separate customers and then recombine the colors and transmit it across fiber. Therefore, lit fiber is fiber that has been lit with light by a carrier.

Dark and lit fiber explainedTo better understand lit fiber’s wavelengths, think of a rainbow where each color is a channel of light. Remember Mr. "ROY G. BIV" from middle school – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet?

Wavelengths essentially split a single fiber into channels. Unlike copper wire, which uses an electrical signal, fiber optic communications utilize either a LASER or a LED operating at a very high frequency. Fiber optic cables have the ability to carry much higher frequencies than copper cables. Traditional bandwidth throughput (1Gb/10Gb/40Gb/100Gb) will easily fit into a single color channel. Each fiber can be split into hundreds of colors, but a typical lit fiber is split into sixteen colors or lambdas.

The business of fiber optics

In the late 1990's, there was an uptick in the number of carriers building out dark fiber networks. In addition, there was a high degree of inter-carrier trades – a practice where carriers would swap dark fiber assets with other carriers in order to gain a foothold in markets where they were not present or had limited capacity. Inter-carrier trades coupled with mergers and acquisitions allowed even the smallest of carriers to offer competitive data transport agreements around the world.

However, a significant portion of this built capacity remained untapped for years. Carriers wanted to avoid potential long-term lost telecommunications revenues and were reluctant to enable competitors in their high margin wavelength services market. In addition, carriers did not want to cannibalize their often oversubscribed and lucrative Ethernet services market with inexpensive high-capacity fiber. For these reasons, many carriers today still do not sell dedicated fiber assets directly to customers.

New demand for bandwidth

Technology needs have changed over time. Enterprises have become more dependent upon cloud services, interconnected infrastructures have grown in number, and a massive growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) all require a large data communications infrastructure that can scale rapidly, predictably, and on demand.

To fulfill these needs, dark fiber providers have entered the market and are working to provide massive bandwidth, low latency, and high quality connectivity to the end customer in the form of raw glass: dark fiber.

For additional information on the pros and cons of dark fiber versus lit services from carriers, read my blog post titled, “Shedding Light on Dark Fiber for Data Centers.”

To Share, or Not to Share? The infrastructure dilemma of a wholesale data center customer

Enterprise customers who are searching for a data center for a 200kW or higher critical infrastructure, have a wide range of wholesale colocation providers to choose from. Besides deciding on the physical location to house their infrastructure, these customers must have some important questions to ask a colocation provider such as redundancy, power billing options, network connectivity, high density availability, scalability and services such as DCIM or remote hands. One of the biggest challenges that many of these enterprise customers face is deciding between the infrastructure delivery options that are available in the industry.

Most colocation providers follow any one of the two delivery models for providing infrastructure to wholesale customers: Shared or Dedicated. The traditional wholesale colocation design is based on dedicated infrastructure, where the customer is allocated a fixed infrastructure that maybe isolated from other customers. Dedicated infrastructure can be difficult and costly to scale beyond the initial allocation and usually comes with lower availability due to the small number of fault domains.

In a shared infrastructure colocation design, the customer is allocated a portion of the total infrastructure of the facility. Often, these shared elements are oversubscribed, relying on multiple customers not to reach or exceed their usage at the same time. Due to oversubscription of power, shared facilities can be less expensive, but more risky.

So, which infrastructure delivery model is the best fit for a wholesale customer? Is there a third option?

Data Center - Shared vs. Dedicated InfrastructureThis whitepaper presents RagingWire’s distributed redundancy model which is an enhancement of shared and dedicated infrastructure models. The load is distributed at the UPS and generator level across the facility, using a patented 2N+2 electrical design. Using this scalable system, RagingWire does not oversubscribe its infrastructure so customers are not at risk from the load or actions of other customers. This model also provides the highest level of provable availability in the industry, and it allows for a robust SLA for wholesale colocation: 100% Availability with no exclusions for maintenance. The authors also compare and identify benefits and pitfalls of the three power delivery models and offer practical advice to businesses looking for wholesale colocation. Click here to download this white paper.

Is it hot in here?

During a recent RagingWire data center tour, a potential client asked, “Is it hot in here?” Much to everyone’s surprise, the tour director smiled as he answered, “Yes, yes it is.” The reason behind the tour director’s happiness goes much deeper than you might think.

Water Cooled Chillers - RagingWire Data CentersWalking into a RagingWire Data Center, you may notice something unlike most other data centers - it’s certain spots. By utilizing extensive air flow analysis, employing a top-notch operations team, and adopting the 2011 ASHRAE TC9.9 guidelines for higher end temperatures, RagingWire is leading the way in creating a more energy efficient data center environment. It’s still a comfortable place to work. It’s just more energy efficient than 5-10 years ago.

Though no global data center temperature standard exists, in 2011 ASHRAE published an update to its whitepaper titled, “Thermal Guidelines for Data Center Processing Environments.” This guideline raised the recommended high-end temperature range from 77°F to 80.6°F, and raised the allowed high-end to reach 89.6F. Still, many data center operators have failed to embrace the broader, more environmentally friendly guidelines. Why?

Server and other electronic equipment suppliers have embraced the TC9.9 guidelines for years and most warranty their equipment to meet the new specifications. The problem exists with outdated data centers or vintage computing equipment that require lower temperatures, and fear of changing current operating parameters. According to a 2013 Uptime Institute Survey of more than 1,000 data centers globally, nearly half of all data centers reported operating at 71-75°F. The next largest segment, from 65-70°F accounted for 37% of all data centers surveyed!

Why does RagingWire operate at these higher temperatures? It all comes down to one small, three-letter acronym, PUE. PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, is a measure of the data center IT load vs. the total power consumption including mechanical and electrical load.

In some cases, with cooling accounting for up to 50% of the data center load, reducing the amount of consumption will lead to positive change in critical facility PUE. By some estimates, every 1°F increase in server inlet temperature can lead to a 4-5% savings in energy costs.

But let’s put some money where our math is: If you operate a facility with a PUE of 1.4, and your total IT load is 1MW, increasing your server inlet temperature just 1°F can lower your annual energy consumption by over 600,000kWh per year!

By achieving a lower design PUE, RagingWire Data Centers captures significant savings, and is able to pass these savings on to its customers. This allows retail and wholesale data center clients the ability to operate in a world-class facility with a small-world footprint. Lowering operating costs and resource consumption, without a reduction in service is usually the kind of undertaking that makes a Board of Directors stand up and applaud. And it can be as simple as ticking up that thermostat.

From Silicon Valley to Data Center Alley

Since the birth of the integrated circuit in the 1950s, Silicon Valley has become the destination for high tech entrepreneurship. Located in Northern California, the term "Silicon Valley" was coined in the 1970s and gained popularity in the 1980’s with the emergence of the personal computer. In Silicon Valley, capacity and capability came together to create some of the greatest technical innovations in history.

This same dynamic of capacity meeting capability that happened decades ago in Silicon Valley is underway in Loudoun County Virginia. We’re calling it Data Center Alley, the largest concentration of the best data centers in the world.

Capacity refers to the raw materials needed to create a thriving data center community: ample telecommunications; reliable, cost-effective utility power; and available land.

Hundreds of telecommunications providers include Data Center Alley as a link in their national and global networks. These networks interconnect using vast amounts of fiber installed in redundant loops throughout the area. The result is that 70% of the world’s internet traffic passes through Data Center Alley.

For utility power, we are fortunate to work with Dominion Virginia Power. Dominion recognized early on the potential for data centers in Northern Virginia and implemented a capacity model that ensured that sufficient power would be available to meet the needs of Data Center Alley at affordable prices. They worked closely with data center companies to configure their power delivery system so that power was highly reliable. Finally, Dominion has been a good steward of our energy infrastructure by maintaining an intelligent mix of available and environmentally sound energy sources.

The last raw material is land. Data centers need space in order to realize economies of scale. For example, our data center in Ashburn, Virginia is 150,000 square feet and we purchased 78 acres of land in Ashburn to build a1.5 million square foot data center campus. The land also needs to be located near the telecommunications and utility supplies and with easy access.

Capability refers to the people, government policies, and culture that promote building great data centers and growing the data center industry.

The data center industry is a highly specialized field that requires deep expertise in engineering, design, construction, and operations. Much of this expertise comes from on-the-job experience. Data Center Alley has more than 40 data centers which support an outstanding talent pool of data center experts.

Government policies have been instrumental in the development of Data Center Alley. Virginia is one of the most pro-business states in the U.S., and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Department of Economic Development are personally involved in helping data center companies be successful. For example, RagingWire customers can qualify for a Virginia sales tax exemption which could save them millions of dollars on purchases of computer equipment and other related data center infrastructure components.

Lastly, the culture in Data Center Alley is all about building. We put theory into practice and scale it. The result is that there is currently eight million sq. ft. of data center space already built or in development in Data Center Alley.

Data Center Alley is starting to get some recognition. If you want to learn more, watch a segment on Data Center Alley from the Sunday morning news program “Government Matters.”

Welcome to Next-Generation DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management)

We are in the era of on-demand data delivery. The proliferation of cloud computing and information sharing has created a sort of data center boom. There are more users, more devices and a lot more services being delivered from the modern data center environment.

In fact, entire organizations and applications are being born directly within the cloud. To really put this trend in perspective, consider this - A 2013 Cisco Cloud Index report indicated that cloud traffic crossed the zettabyte (1000^7 bytes) threshold in 2012. Furthermore, by 2016, nearly two-thirds of all data center traffic will be based in the cloud.

Cisco Cloud Index Report - 2013

Efficient computing, converged infrastructures, multi-tenant platforms, and next-generation management are the key design points for the modern data center environment. Because we are placing more services into our data centers – there is greater need for visibility into multiple aspects of daily operations.

The picture of the next-generation management platform is that of a truly unified management plane

So what does that really mean? A unified data center infrastructure management platform removes “physical” barriers of a typical control system. The reason for this necessary shift can be seen in the job that the modern data center is now tasked with performing and the levels of monitoring that must occur. Next-generation DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) will remove logical and physical walls and unify the entire data center control process.

"Everything-as-a-Service" Controls. The modern data center is now considered to be at the heart of "The Internet of Everything." This means that more services, information, and resources are being delivered through the data center than ever before. As the data center continues to add on new functions and delivery models – administrators will need to have visibility into everything that is being delivered. Whether it’s monitoring SLAs or a specific as-a-service offering – next-generation data center management must have integration into the whole infrastructure.

Cluster-Ready Real-Time Monitoring. There is true data center distribution happening. These nodes are inter-connected, sharing resources, and delivering content to millions of end-users. With advancements in modern data center infrastructure, bandwidth and optimized computing – data center architecture has gone from singular units to truly clustered entities. This level of connectivity also requires new levels of distributed management and control. Not only is this vital for proper resource utilization and load-balancing; cluster-ready monitoring creates greater amounts of data enter resiliency. By having complete visibility into all data center operations across the board, administrators are able to make better – proactive – decisions.

Big Data Management Engines. The increase of cloud services has created an influx of new types of offerings to the end-users. IT consumerization, BYOD and mobility have all become very hot topics around numerous large organizations. As cloud continues to grow – more users will be utilizing these resources. With an increase of users comes the direct increase of data. This is where next-generation data center management comes in. Big data engines will sit both within the cloud and on the edge of the cloud network – also known as the Fog. There, these data centers will have direct tie-ins into big data analytics engines running on virtual and physical platforms. Because this data and the information gathering process is so crucial – complete visibility into the entire process is vital. This means that large data centers acting as hubs for big data analytics will have control visibility into storage, networking, compute, infrastructure and more.

Logical and Physical Management. The days of bare metal accumulation are over. Modern data centers are highly virtualized and highly efficient. New data centers are being built around optimal power, cooling and resource control mechanisms. On top of that – sit highly efficient high-density servers capable of great levels of multi-tenancy. Although some silo’d monitoring operations may still occur – the overall infrastructure must be unified in terms of management and control. This means having granular visibility into core data center operations which includes:

  • Power
  • Cooling
  • Aisle/Control
  • Alerts/Monitoring
  • Advanced Environmental Monitoring
  • Proactive Alerting and Remediation
  • Security (physical, structural, rack, etc.)

On top of that, data center administrators must also be able to see the workloads which are running on top of this modern infrastructure. This means understanding how virtual resources are being utilized and how this is impacting the underlying data center environment.

Cloud Orchestration and Automation. The cloud computing boom also created a big need around better workload control and automation. This actually spans both the hardware and software layer. From a next-generation management perspective, there needs to be the ability to create hardware and software profiles which can then be applied to physical and virtual resources for deployment. Finally, when this approach is tied into intelligent load-balancing solutions, you have a truly end-to-end cloud orchestration and automation solution. Now, although we’re not quite at those levels yet, next-generation data center management solutions are directly integrating workload automation options. It is becoming easier to deploy hardware and simpler to provision workloads. All of this means faster content and data delivery to the corporation and the end-user. Next-generation data center management will be able to have plug-ins into the physical and logical layer and facilitate new levels of cloud automation and orchestration. 

Mobile Data Center Visibility. It’s not like your data center will just get up and move around – at least not in most cases. However, having the ability to have mobile visibility of your data center is a need. This means controlling some data center functions from mobile devices and delivering direct web-based controls as well. Furthermore, because the data center is becoming more interconnected – there will be more functions and roles to control. There will be various types of administrators and mangers requiring specific controls within a single and clustered data center model. Role-based administration and management will evolve from the standard PC to true mobility. All of this will translate to a more efficient engineering, administration and management layer of your entire data center infrastructure.

Single-Pane of Glass – Complete Control. At the end of the day it all comes down to how well you can manage your data center. There’s no arguing that there will be more requirements around the future data center platform. As the number of services that the data center delivers continues to increase, complete visibility will become even more important. There will be more plug-ins, monitoring tools, and clustered nodes to look at all while trying to control resiliency. The next-generation monitoring UI and control platforms must be intuitive, easy to understand, simple to navigate and allow the administrator to truly optimize the entire data center infrastructure.

Tomorrow’s data centers must also have tomorrow’s visibility and control. The nature of the data center is changing. It’s now the hub that delivers core services, user applications, and entire platforms. IT consumerization and the increase in Internet utilization are partially the reason for the data center boom. However, the natural progression of technology has taken our entire infrastructure into a highly resilient and agile cloud platform. The ability to stay connected and have massive content delivered directly to your end-point is truly impressive.

As the business evolves, the data center infrastructure will have to follow suit. Already business initiatives are directly aligned with the capabilities of the respective IT department. This correlation will only continue to increase as the data center becomes the home of everything. And with the next-generation data center - there must be next-generation management and control.

Would Your Employees Recommend You?

I have had the pleasure of leading customer-facing support organizations for the past 15 years, and during that time I have managed hundreds of employees. Over time I noticed a common thread: the happier the employees were, the happier the customers were. This is because the same set of values drives both employee experience and customer experience (job seekers: if a company has a reputation for bad service, run the other way!). 

RagingWire has the highest customer loyalty Net Promoter Score (NPS) in the data center industry. And in achieving this we have found that you simply cannot delight your customers without first delighting your employees. Here are ten ways to improve employee experience: 

  1. Focus – put your customer at the core of your business. Use customer experience to drive your culture. Use it as the driving force behind everything you do. Why? Because without customers, your business will fail. 
  1. Purpose – you must have a strategic plan. Communicate what the big picture is and how each employee fits into that picture. Better yet, develop the strategic plan with employee input. We all want to be part of a company that is growing, and having a well-defined strategic plan is the foundation for that growth.
  1. Communication – communicate with employees, both the good and the bad. Share the big picture with them, tell them where the organization is doing well and where there are challenges. Be transparent, approachable, sincere and humble. And don’t forget to have fun!
  1. Recognition – lack of recognition ranks as the number one reason behind job dissatisfaction, even ahead of money. We spend a third of our lives at work, and we want to be appreciated when we do a good job. By our peers, by our manager, by other managers, by the mailman, everyone!
  1. Growth – just as we want our business to grow, our employees want to grow too. And development doesn’t have to happen in an expensive classroom. It can happen by reading books, attending webinars, writing blogs, being assigned a challenging project, facilitating a lunch and learn, mentoring, job shadowing, the list goes on.
  1. Opportunity – I have yet to meet an employee not interested in career advancement. Makes #5 on the list all the more important, doesn’t it?  A key role of being an effective manager means developing your employees. This will allow more promoting from within, which makes for happier employees but also more expertise – those who move to different positions and departments gain greater company perspective. And they are more helpful too. It’s the “I’ve been in her shoes” effect, and it’s powerful.
  1. Flexibility – focus on results, not hours. People have lives outside of work – families, charities, spirituality needs, healthcare, etc and if you allow them flexibility in managing those things, you will earn their loyalty. 
  1. Listen – trust me, at this exact moment your employees have ideas that could improve your business. Put measures in place to solicit those ideas! And don’t be defensive if you hear something you don’t like; focusing on continuous improvement isn’t being negative, it’s being strategic.
  1. Trust – hire a talented team, set the direction for that team, give the team tools to do their job, and then get out of their way. Valuable employees don’t want to be micromanaged. Focus on results, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  1. Give Back – if you want employees to take ownership, give them ownership. Employees want the ability to share financially in the company’s success, so incentives like performance-based bonus plans can be great motivators. 

There. Ten things you can start doing today to improve employee experience. And customer experience. And profitability!

(Attention employees: you’re not off the hook here. Have a service attitude at all times. Be open to change, and be positive. Share knowledge. Be a team player. Be patient. Show initiative. Execute.)

Apply at RagingWire Data Centers today at

Introducing RagingWire Backup Services

I used to be a tape-based data backup manager – a tape labeler -- a tape rotator – a tape scheduler – a tape library/spreadsheet manager – a restore-from-tape nightmare wake-upper. My tape-based backup programs generally worked as they should, but they involved a lot of manual labor that could have been devoted to other tasks. Over two years as an IT manager, it became clear to me that there had to be a simpler, more reliable way to backup data.

That’s why I’m excited to introduce RagingWire’s new Backup Services, a disc-based enterprise grade data backup platform that automates onsite storage and offsite replication for customers inside RagingWire’s world-class data centers. Best of all – no more tapes!

RagingWire’s New Backup Services – Engineered for the Enterprise

We utilize the same best-in-breed enterprise data protection technology for our Backup Services that many large enterprises use for their own data backups: Symantec NetBackup™. The product supports multiple databases and applications as well as both physical and virtual servers in order to automate and standardize your backups onto one unified platform. Secure encryption at the customer device keeps your data safe and sophisticated deduplication technology shortens your server backup windows. RagingWire’s 24x7 Network Operations Center is just a phone call or email away when you need to restore.

Onsite Storage. Offsite Replication.

As a company, RagingWire focuses on providing the nation’s best data center colocation services. We back up our 100% Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the most advanced data center infrastructure and we have the happiest customers in the industry. So why is RagingWire introducing Backup Services? Simply speaking, our customers ask for disc-based backup services located inside both our data center campuses in Ashburn and Sacramento. Options include onsite storage in a customer’s current RagingWire data center and offsite replication to a customer’s remote RagingWire data center. We want to give our customers the assurance that unlike a cloud backup, they’ll always know where their data is. It’s located inside a RagingWire data center and our customers have access to restore 24x7 via our expert Network Operations Center staff.

Are you a current RagingWire customer? Take a minute to check out the Backup Services data sheet or contact your account manager to see how we can help you get rid of your tapes and simplify your data backup strategy.

Curious as to how you can further optimize your data backup strategy? Head over to Jerry Gilreath’s excellent blog post: 5 Ways to Fool-Proof Your Data Backup Strategy.

Where the cloud lives – A look at the evolving distributed computing environment

The idea behind cloud computing has been around for some time. In fact, one of the very first scholarly uses of the term “cloud computing” was in 1997, at the annual INFORMS meeting in Dallas. However, the way the cloud has evolved into what we are capable of using today shows the amount of creativity and technological innovation that is possible. Distributed computing platforms are helping IT professionals conquer distance and deliver massive amounts of information to numerous points all over the world.

This is all made possible by a number of technologies all working together to bring cloud computing to life. Oftentimes, however, there is still some confusion around cloud computing – not so much how it works; but where it lives. Many will argue that virtualization gave birth to the cloud. Although server, application, network and other types of virtualization platforms certainly helped shape and mold cloud computing, there are other – very important – pieces to the cloud puzzle.

One IT landscape with many clouds in the sky

The very first concept that needs to be understood is that there isn’t one massive cloud out there controlling or helping to facilitate the delivery of your data. Rather, there are numerous interconnected cloud networks out there which may share infrastructure as they pass each other in cyberspace. Still, at the core of any cloud, there are key components which make the technology function well.

  • The data center. If the cloud has a home, it would have to be a data center. Or more specifically a neighborhood of data centers. Data centers house the integral parts that make the cloud work. Without servers, storage, networking, and a solid underlying infrastructure – the cloud would not exist today. Furthermore, new advancements in high-density computing are only helping further progress the power of the cloud. For example, Tilera recently released their 72-core, GX-72 processor. The GX-72 is a 64-bit system-on-chip (SoC) equipped with 72 processing cores, 4 DDR memory controllers and a big-time emphasis on I/O. Now, cloud architects are able to design and build a truly “hyper-connected” environment with an underlying focus on performance.

    Beyond the computing power, the data center itself acts as a beacon for the cloud. It facilitates the resources for the massive amounts of concurrent connections that the cloud requires and it will do so more efficiently over the years. Even now cloud data centers are trying to be more and more efficient. The Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) has been a great metric for many cloud-ready data centers to manage the energy overhead associated with running a data center. More and more data centers are trying to approach the 1.0 rating as they continue to deliver more data and do it more efficiently. With the increase in data utilization and cloud services, there is no doubt that the data center environment will continue to play an absolute integral part in the evolution of cloud computing.

  • Globalization. The cloud is spreading – and it’s spreading very fast. Even now, data centers all over the world are creating services and options for cloud hosting and development. No longer an isolated front – cloud computing is truly being leveraged on a global scale. Of course, technologies like file-sharing were already a global solution. However, more organizations are becoming capable of deploying their own cloud environment. So, when we say that the cloud lives in a location – we mean exactly that.

    Historically, some parts of the world simply could not host or create a robust cloud environment. Why? Their geographic region could not support the amount of resources that a given cloud deployment may require. Fortunately, this is all changing. At the 2012 Uptime Symposium in Santa Clara, CA we saw an influx of international data center providers all in one room competing for large amounts of new business. The best part was that all of these new (or newly renovated) data centers now all had truly advanced technologies capable of allowing massive cloud instances to traverse the World Wide Web. This is a clear indication that, geographically, the cloud is expanding and that there is a business need for it to continue to do so.

  • Consumerization. One of the absolutely key reasons the cloud is where it is today is because of the cloud consumer. IT consumerization, BYOD, and the absolute influx of user-based connected devices have generated an enormous amount of data. All of this information now needs to span the Internet and utilize various cloud services. Whether it’s a file-sharing application or a refrigerator that is capable of alerting the owner that it’s low on milk – all of these solutions require the use of the cloud. Every day, we see more devices connect to the cloud. To clarify, when we mean devices – we’re not just referring to phones, laptops, or tablets. Now, we have cars, appliances, and even entire houses connecting to a cloud services. The evolution of the cloud revolves around the demands created by the end-user. This, in turn, forces the technology community to become even more innovative and progressive when it comes to cloud computing.

    As more global users connect to the Internet with their devices – the drive to grow the cloud will continue. This is why, in a sense, the cloud will eventually live with the end-user. Even now new technologies are being created to allow the end-user to utilize their own "personal cloud." This means every user will have their own cloud personality with files, data, and resources all completely unique to them.

  • Cloud Connectors. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t really just one large cloud out there for all of users trying to access it. The many private, public, hybrid, and community clouds out there comprise one massive interconnected cloud grid. In that sense, the evolution of the cloud created an interesting, and very familiar, challenge: a language barrier. For example, as one part of an enterprise grows its cloud presence, another department might also begin a parallel cloud project on a different platform. Well, now there is a need to connect the two clouds together. But, what if these two environments are on completely different cloud frameworks? It’s in this sense that we deploy the cloud “Babel Fish” in the form of APIs. These APIs literally act as cloud connectors to help organizations extend, merge, or diversify their cloud solutions.

    It’s not a perfect technology and even now not all cloud platforms can fully integrate with others. However, the APIs are getting better and more capable of supporting large cloud platforms. New technologies like CloudStack or OpenStack help pave the way for the future of cloud connectivity and APIs. Platforms like this work as open-source cloud software solutions which help organizations create, manage, and deploy infrastructure cloud services.

In a cloudy world – bring an umbrella!

Let’s face facts – it’s not always sunny in the cloud. As the technology continues to emerge, IT professionals are still learning some best practices and optimal ways to keep the cloud operational. This isn’t proving altogether easy. There are more users, more infrastructure, and more bad guys taking their aim at various cloud infrastructures.  Just as important as it is to understand how the cloud functions and where it resides – it’s vital to know the "weather forecast" within the cloud computing environment.

  • Attacks. Although this is the darker side of the cloud, it still needs to be analyzed. As more organizations move towards a cloud platform, it’s only logical to assume that these cloud environments will become targets. Even now, attacks against cloud providers are growing. This can be a direct intrusion or a general infrastructure attack. Regardless of the type, all malicious intrusions can have devastating results on a cloud environment. Over the past few months, one of the biggest threats against a cloud provider has been the influx of DDoS attacks. A recent annual Arbor Networks survey showed that 77% of the data center administrator respondents experienced more advanced, application-layer attack. Furthermore, such attacks represented 27 percent of all attack vectors. The unnerving part here is that the ferocity of these attacks continues to grow achieving a 100Gbps spike in 2010.

    Cloud services aren’t always safe either. On February 28, 2013 – Evernote saw its first signs of a hacking. Passwords, emails and usernames were all accessed. Now, the provider is requiring its nearly 50 million users to reset their passwords. The damage with these types of attacks isn’t always just the data. Evernote had to further release a response – and these are always difficult to do. In the responding blog post, Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO and founder said the following, "Individual(s) responsible were able to gain access to Evernote user information, which includes usernames, email addresses associated with Evernote accounts and encrypted passwords." These types of intrusions can only help serve as learning points to create better and more secure cloud environments.

  • Outages. If you place your cloud infrastructure into a single data center – you should know that your cloud environment can and will go down. No one major cloud provider is safe from some type of disaster or outage. Furthermore, cloud computing services are still an emerging field and many data center and cloud providers are still trying to figure out a way to create a truly resilient environment.

    The most important point to take away here is that a cloud outage can literally happen for almost any reason. For example, a few administrators for a major cloud provider forgot to renew a simple SSL certificate. What happened next is going to be built into future cloud case studies. Not only did this cause an initial failure of the cloud platform, it created a global – cascading – event taking down numerous other cloud-reliant systems. Who was the provider? Microsoft Azure. The very same Azure platform which had $15 billion pumped into its design and build out. Full availability wasn’t restored for 12 hours – and up to 24 hours for many others. About 52 other Microsoft services relying on the Azure platform experienced issues – this includes the Xbox Live network.  This type of outage will create (and hopefully answer) many new types of questions as far as cloud continuity and infrastructure resiliency.

As with any technological platform, careful planning and due diligence has to go into all designs and deployments. It’s evident with the speed of today’s technology usage that the world of cloud computing is only going to continue to expand. Where the cloud lives - blog article by Bill KleymanNew conversations around big data further demonstrate a new need for the cloud. The ability to transmit, analyze and quantify massive amounts of data is going to fall onto the cloud’s shoulders. Cloud services will be created to churn massive amounts of information on a distributed plane. Even now platforms are being used around open-source technologies to help control and distribute the data. Projects like Hadoop and the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) are already being deployed by large companies to control their data and make it agile.

With more users, more connection points and much more data – cloud computing lives in a growing and global collection of distributed data centers.  It is critical that cloud developers and participants select their data center platforms carefully with an emphasis on 100% reliability, high-density power, energy-efficient cooling, high-performance networking, and continual scalability. Moving forward, the data center will truly be the main component as to where the cloud resides.

Why You Should Know About NANOG

I had the pleasure to attend last week’s 57th meeting of the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG) in Orlando, FL as part of the RagingWire team, which included folks from our data center and network engineering groups. Not only was the weather a balmy 70 degrees, but it was one of the most informative events I have been to in my career thus far. The NANOG meeting covered some of the most important and controversial topics on the cutting edge of internet security, connectivity, and governance going into 2013. Some highlights:

World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) Update.

Put simply, NANOG is a community of network operators who exchange technical and operational information in support of a single goal: to make the internet as connected and resilient as possible, ensuring free flow of information around the world. With this end-state in mind, internet governance is a topic of much conversation and consternation among the NANOG members who attend this session of the meeting.

The main thrust of the December 2012 WCIT, was to update and ratify a new, 21st century iteration of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) which were last ratified in 1988. Sally Wentworth, a public policy manager at the Internet Society, presented a "postmortem" on the effects and way forward from the ITR treaty that was voted on at the conference. Much of the presentation focused on dangers posed by those nations that wish to regulate and/or have the capability to censor, on a nationwide scale, the availability or usefulness of the internet as a weapon to quell popular sentiment or anti-government organization. The presentation was a timely reminder that unfettered, low-cost access to the internet is an ideal that must be protected. Ms. Wentworth also called on the NANOG membership body, as an expert knowledge base, to be a contributor and party to making that ideal a reality both now and in the future.

The Infrastructure and Internet Impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Two sessions during the NANOG meeting were dedicated to the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the internet and the infrastructure that supports it. One the first day of the meeting, several data center providers discussed their responses and lessons learned from their facilities located in the NJ and NY areas. This presentation really highlighted the importance of data center location from a risk management point of view, but it isn’t just about location. Protecting data center infrastructure is also about the pre-planning that must be in place before a natural disaster occurs: diesel fuel refueling contracts, reliable hotel arrangements (with reliable backup power), work-from-home arrangements, food storage at the facility, and staffing arrangements, to name a few.

The second day featured a session on the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the internet and posed the question: What happens if we turn off power to one of the key traffic exchange cities? One of the most interesting presentations ensued, demonstrating the interconnectedness and flexibility at the core of the internet as trace routes changed in real time to pass through Ashburn, VA instead of NYC as Sandy made landfall.

Arbor Networks Infrastructure Security 2012 Report

This meeting session focused on a survey by Arbor Networks that explored the landscape of network threats and attacks (multi-vector, DDoS) over the past year. Top issues for network operators included DDoS attacks (trending towards multi-vector sustained attacks), enterprise data centers as vulnerable even with firewalls, the increased concern over “shared risk” in migrating applications to the cloud, and the inability of mobile service providers to have visibility into their networks in order to detect or combat any kind of attack. Most attack incidents appear to be motivated by ideology, be it politics or revenge. The presentation took a deep dive into the recent, persistent, multi-vector DDoS attacks, Annie George at NANOG 57nicknamed “Operation Ababil,” of many top Wall Street financial institutions that are ongoing. Overall, an eye-opening account of the ever-growing threat to network security, not just on a governmental level, but at the industrial/enterprise level as well.

If you work or play on the internet, you should know about NANOG, the Internet Society, and other groups who discuss topics like the ones presented last week – and who desire to keep the internet accessible and reliable for all of us. Congrats to NANOG members for the community they have built and the collective expertise they have to influence the international internet community.


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