You have just been promoted to CTO of Widgets, Inc. (Congratulations, by the way!) In your new role, on which of the following will you focus the most attention (and budget):

(a) the network

(b) the applications

(c) the data

Trick question. The answer is (d) all of the above. I know I didn't list that choice (I did in the poll, however) but you've taken multiple choice quizzes before; there's always a choice (d) all of the above. Always. And 25% of the time it's the right answer. In the case of technology today, it's always the right answer.

As an industry we spend a lot of time (and money) worrying about how to protect our applications and the data that drives them. We spend a lot of time (and money) agonizing over how to scale and keep available those applications which are crucial not only to our business users but our customers and partners. We spend a lot of time (and money) trying to make those applications faster and better and easier to use.

The network, however, is often left out of the discussion (and the budget). Like the local road, most people don't think much about it until there's a pothole that slows you down or causes a flat tire. Then it gets a lot of attention - and most of it negative.

This lack of attention to the network and its importance to scale and reliability and security is problematic and pervasive. So pervasive that research firm Gartner recently penned a research note on the subject of the network and cloud computing entitled, "You Can't Do Cloud Computing Without the Right Cloud (Network)." [reprint courtesy of F5]

quote-left There are four different types of networks supporting "cloud computing" and each react differently to different application characteristics. These differences are critical to the selection of a cloud network vendor.

Four different types of networks supporting cloud computing. I'm guessing that holds true for non-cloud computing architectures as well. There are many different types of networks and architectures and this is, in part, why the network is always, always depicted as nothing more than an amorphous cloud in application architecture diagrams.

Many of Gartner's key findings mirror what we've been asserting are four key attributes of infrastructure supporting cloud computing, whether that cloud is a big one "in the sky" (Internet) or a smaller one "in the backyard" (in your data center). In general, it mirrors what we've been saying for years with regard to improving application performance and scalability: the network is more important than most people tend to believe. It's not just a "pipe", it's an integral part of your architecture and is inherently important to the successful deployment and delivery of applications.

Data is the lifeblood of an organization, and applications are the heart of the data center. On that there is no argument. But the network is the complex system of veins and arteries that carries that lifeblood to and from the heart (applications) and without them, well, your business is likely faltering if not dead.

Just as doctors try to impart upon us the importance of preventive medicine and a healthy diet, it's just as important to apply that practice to IT in general. We need to be proactive and take preventive action whenever possible in order f5scrip to deliver applications that are fast, secure, and available. And that means keeping the network on the same level of importance as the data and applications it is serving. That means investing in technologies that make the network better, faster, and more able to continue transporting data between the applications and the users that need them.

The network can inhibit the delivery of applications or it can enhance the delivery of applications. Which is ultimately up to you, and based upon what role you assign it within your application infrastructure.

The first step is recognizing that the network is as important as the applications and data it is delivering.

The second step is discovering how the network might help in deploying and delivering those applications and providing value above and beyond its traditional role of "just a pipe."

The third step is to do something about it.

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