Remember The Bandwidth: Are Connectivity Issues Slowing Down Your Customers' Cloud Migrations?

Whether they are facing the problem today or are anticipating it becoming one down the road, solution providers say that connectivity issues and a lack of bandwidth are posing challenges as they look to ramp up customer migrations to the cloud.

And it's only going to become more complicated, said Tony Safoian, president and CEO of North Hollywood, Calif.-based solution provider SADA Systems.

The challenges for solution providers persist despite the fact that U.S. broadband adoption is on the rise, jumping from 10 percent of all Internet connections in 2000 to 97 percent in 2010, according to a State of the Internet Data Visualization Data Files report by Akamai. Average speeds are accelerating as well, the report said, increasing 131 percent in the same period, including 31 percent growth in 2013 alone.

[Related: How One VAR Solved Chromebook Connectivity]

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However, solution providers said there are still areas where they struggle to get enough connectivity to get their customers cloud-ready.

Chris Buono, CTO and virtual CIO of Springfield, Mass.-based Paragus IT, said the company has a mix of customers in New England cities, such as Springfield and Hartford, Conn., and some in more rural areas of those states. Customers in those more rural areas are much more limited in their cloud options.

"When we move those clients to cloud technology, we always have to first assess what kind of connectivity they have and how reliable it is. For those clients that have established connectivity, it's served them well so there's no issue in moving them to the cloud. For those clients that are on the outliers, we have to scale back expectations or get a little creative," Buono said.

While SADA Systems hasn't yet encountered a prohibitive bandwidth problem, Safoian said he is bracing for the day. So far, most of the cloud migrations the solution provider has handled have been centered on email, such as Google Apps or Office 365, he said. However, as customers become more comfortable with the cloud and move more data and more-complex technologies such as voice, video and communications technologies, the problem will be exacerbated.

"I think it's going to become more of a concern as you're accessing more and more of your tools and systems in any organization through the cloud," Safoian said.

Safoian cites two major problems that are emerging around connectivity and bandwidth issues. First, an initial cloud migration can be slowed down by low bandwidth as workloads are moved over to the cloud. The trickiest part of the initial migration in a low-bandwidth environment is moving the workloads without impacting employee productivity, he said, where a fast Internet connection means the migration can theoretically move quickly and smoothly.

After the migration, Safoian said the second challenge with connectivity and bandwidth becomes that workloads previously only accessed through the internal networks now take up more of the organization's Internet availability.

"Once you move these workloads to the cloud, Internet bandwidth becomes more relevant," Safoian said. "You're actually using everything through the Internet and using more Internet overall after the migration."

Next: What Can A Solution Provider Do?


Paragus IT's first step with customers that are thinking about moving some operations to the cloud is evaluating their bandwidth availability in their region, said Buono. In areas with lower bandwidth, he said the solution depends on which business functions they want to migrate to the cloud, and how integral they are to the business. For example, if a customer needs to move some document files to Dropbox or Google Drive, that's not as critical as a health-care company that needs to move its Electronic Health Records.

"Those clients that have either lightly touched or not touched the cloud at all, the first thing we have to do is to assess connectivity so we can gauge if, should connectivity go down, to what extent does it affect their business?" Buono said.

For moving critical workloads to the cloud in low connectivity areas, Buono said the solution provider "gets creative." For example, he said one solution was to use 4G as a connectivity backup so business doesn't grind to a complete halt in an outage.

For Safoian, he said that he has started changing up the conversations he has with customers, especially if they are smaller organizations that might be less technically savvy. For customers that already have started boosting their bandwidth, the discussions start to happen again as they look to upgrade from email migrations to cloud-based voice, video or other more complicated and bandwidth-heavy projects.

"We're seeing just more of a need to have that conversation up front now," Safoian said.

"I think the other aspect that is becoming more apparent is real planning around high availability around Internet connectivity, as well. ... As you get rid of those points of failure within your network, the single biggest point of failure becomes your Internet connection. It makes sense if you're running more critical stuff over the Internet now that you have a more significant failure capability."

To head off any potential problems, SADA Systems has been partnering with voice and data providers as well as consultants and brokers to overcome the initial migration issues and is bringing the companies into discussions with customers, said Safoian.

For its part, solution provider Insight does thorough "cloud assessments" to make sure the customer's environment is truly ready for the cloud, said Insight CEO Ken Lamneck. That includes checking that the customer has the proper network or if it has network latency issues. That will help determine which workloads should be moved first or what sort of cloud it should migrate to, he said.

Next: Tackling The Bandwidth Issue Head On


Vendors are getting vocal about the broadband issue, especially as the Federal Communications Commission threatens to make the problem worse, they argue, with the so-called Net Neutrality rules. At the beginning of the month, 33 vendors, including Cisco Systems, IBM and Intel, signed a petition to oppose Net Neutrality rules that would characterize broadband as a public utility, under the same classification as landline telephone services. If passed, the manufacturers wrote that the rules would "threaten demand for Internet infrastructure, reduce incentives for investment, hinder innovation and jeopardize this success."

A number of states, meanwhile, have stepped up to the plate to ensure bandwidth is up to par. Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and other states have undertaken initiatives to boost bandwidth in their states through task forces, fiber laying and more.

Greg Urban, CTO of the state of Maryland, speaking at XChange Public Sector in Washington, D.C., in May, talked about his experience with NetworkMaryland, which is a statewide high-speed network for public sector use, and how important the service is for the state's ambitious cloud plan. That connectivity, including thousands of miles of fiber and the ability to connect directly to Google's data center, helped make the state's big Google Apps project with SADA Systems possible.

"That's one of the reasons we were really poised to go to the cloud, because we have very good broadband throughout most of our state, and most of our state agencies are very well-connected," Urban said. "We didn't really need to worry about that in this RFP [for Google Apps]. We knew we had excellent connectivity to the Internet, and we knew we had the ability to peer directly to Google's data center."

Those who aren't so lucky as to have government connectivity support are working actively to upgrade network infrastructures and get clients up to speed.

Hosting and cloud providers are recognizing the bandwidth problem and helping boost connectivity for both themselves and their partners. The reason behind the push, said Drew McBath, senior director of product and strategic marketing at Atlanta-based cloud hosting provider Internap, is that they want to keep the avenues to the cloud open to customers instead of turning them away.

Migrating data to the cloud over slower local connectivity is a particular barrier, according to McBath, who said one way Internap is dealing with the issue is take customers' hard drives and migrate them physically to the servers, instead of migrating over their local Internet.

"It would probably prevent people from using the cloud in that way if they were in an area with low connectivity," he said. "If you're in rural areas or developing countries, it's an ongoing problem. ... I think that's one practical reality that someone would face in low connectivity areas."

Treb Ryan, chief strategy officer of the cloud business unit at Dimension Data, No. 13 on CRN's Solution Provider 500 list, said that as both a cloud provider and a solution provider, the company hasn't seen as much connectivity issues in the U.S., but does see a barrier as the company continues to expand globally. As a cloud provider, Ryan said Dimension Data has to ensure connectivity because it's not simply enough to provide a cloud product; there is an "inherent contract" to maintain uptime.

"You're seeing improvements all the time and investments going in all the time, but it isn't going to be a slam dunk for providers for quite some time. Even as some places get better, we're going to want to expand into other locations. Obviously, not everyone is going to have perfect network connectivity and data centers in five years," Ryan said.

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.