Virtualisation & The New Application Landscape
Application delivery and security are major challenges with the advances in application architecture.
Application architecture is changing in profound ways through the use of compounding, cloud hosting and management, streaming and virtualisation. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) compounds separate applications to form a new, more comprehensive one. Cloud-based applications are maintained and evolve independently and transparently to users or customers, dramatically changing IT requirements for companies. Streaming technologies provide specific application functionality on an as-needed, on-demand basis. Virtualisation enables applications to work in extremely flexible ways on a much broader array of platforms and in tandem with other separate applications. Virtualisation can also create an entirely virtual computing environment that can be loaded as a client onto various computers.
While each of these advances of application architecture brings substantial benefits, they each create new challenges. In particular, organisations using such new applications are faced with two significant questions: 1) How do I secure the application and 2) How do I deliver the application efficiently and effectively to users throughout my distributed network?
In the case of security, the task of securing the application and associated data stores is generally the responsibility of the application provider in the case of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or a streaming or on-demand application. It is imperative that customers understand the policies and means of security that the provider has incorporated to protect the integrity of the application and data and keep both safe from malware and other malicious threats as well as keep the data confidential. Customers must ensure that a proper means of security is being applied and the same meets the customer’s own expectations. In addition, the means for authentication and authorisation have to meet the customer’s standards.
The application provider generally assumes responsibility of conveying traffic between users and the application in a secure way. This generally involves encrypted tunnels across public Internet or, infrequently, secure dedicated lines.
Once the encrypted traffic reaches the customer, it is the customer’s responsibility to verify its integrity and authenticity and continue to treat it as securely as required. A critical first step is having the ability to specifically identify such incoming traffic as being a specific application and treating it accordingly. This also addresses the second issue. Not only does the application traffic have to be secure and treated securely, it also has to benefit from the same prioritisation and acceleration that would be given to a business-critical application that is run internally. In other words, WAN optimisation or Application Delivery Network solutions must ensure the responsiveness of the applications to users in any location across the organisation.
SOA application traffic usually requires the participation of multiple parties in solving the security and delivery challenges. Both need to be fully addressed. As with other applications, the starting place is to be able to specifically identify the traffic and not only identify it, but also recognise it as a piece of a larger application. This may be a formidable challenge.
In the case of virtualised applications, the same challenges about security and delivery apply. It is too easy to think that a virtualised application somehow traverses the network invisibly and without impact. The truth is that traffic to and from virtualised applications has just as much impact as that from non-virtualised apps. In addition, a virtualised session, being run remotely, can be extremely sensitive to latency and delay and generally requires optimisation and acceleration to operate effectively.
Also, a virtual image, such as a virtual desktop, can markedly tax an existing WAN and present extremely difficult problems for delivery time. It is common to hear about employees in branch offices waiting for virtualised desktops to load and having to wait 30 minutes or more before they can get into their daily routine. Some WAN optimisation or Application Delivery Network solutions can bring this wait down to well under a minute.
Despite an application’s design, it is critical to provide the security and delivery it needs to protect important information and ensure that business processes run at their necessary speed and efficiency.
Mitra is country manager (India) with Blue Coat Systems.
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