More companies are starting to buy computing power the way they buy electricity — paying only for what they use — but the focus on the economics of utility computing often dwarfs considerations about the network implications of utility computing.

Guy Kapuscinsky, national principal network optimization

specialist, IBM Canada, says network managers considering the utility computing model should consider an On Demand environment, operational efficiency and resiliency.

“”On Demand really drives the specific concept of having different applications whether they be applications that are more generic such as e-mail or storage backup, or whether they be more application specific such as ERP,”” said Kapuscinsky, adding that operational efficiency involves ensuring that the wide-area link is optimized for performance.

“”Resiliency (comes down to) how do I scale the resources so that I get more capabilities? How do I ensure that there is an alternate route?””

Plan to adapt to changing needs

And although utility computing is still in the early stages, with some firms still unaware of what it entails, companies such as IBM, Sun and HP are promoting the option.

Darren Hamilton, category business manager, ProCurve Networking Business, Hewlett-Packard (Canada), said that sFlow is particularly important in the utility computing environment because it lets network administrators to monitor and capture real-time data.

“”Network planning is right up front at the beginning of scoping out projects,”” Hamilton said. “”It’s difficult to go back and try to make changes to the network once the utility is deployed, and it really becomes tougher to do on the back end if it’s not provisioned for in the beginning.””

Ronald Gruia, an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan Canada, added said network managers who are considering how utility computing might affect their networks should remember users’ needs will change.

For example, Gruia said, a company may want to add voice over IP to the network.

“”There are two data packets that are going through the network, but all of a sudden the dynamics have changed drastically and you have to do more intensive or more in-depth monitoring of the network traffic,”” he said.

Failing to adapt to changing needs, Gruia added, could ultimately compromise quality of service. While businesses might not worry if a slow network means that an e-mail arrives at its intended destination a second longer than usual, they will likely not be as patient if VoIP suffers a one second delay, Gruia said.

Paul Strauss, a research manager with IDC’s enterprise networks section, said firms adopting the utility computing model would have to be prepared for several network upgrades.

“”You’d have to have faster lines, faster switches,”” Strauss said. “”It would probably have to go to multicasting. The connections that we’re using now are using paths that were laid down decades ago when the LANs were first installed, but with true utility computing you might well have to deal with multiple paths.””

Look for diagnostic tools

But companies buying IT services from outside firms should think carefully before buying network management services, said Derick Wong, Microsoft Canada Co.’s senior product manager of security management.

“”We view the IT infrastructure as a strategic asset to companies. It’s not an overhead,”” said Wong, adding that Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative is is designed to give companies software that cuts labour costs across the entire IT lifecycle.

“”We outsource some of our help desk and we outsource some of our administration functions, but we don’t outsource our sales and we don’t outsource our marketing, because those are strategic assets,”” he said.

Gruia said network managers should not only consider outsourcing network management, but also using special diagnostic, monitoring, management and security tools that can facilitate the monitoring of traffic and quality of service.

As for whether network managers should be provisioning network resources on a utility basis, Kapuscinsky said there are no definitive answers.

“”As you go forward, does that provide you the flexibility and the appropriate costing to give you the appropriate resilience, to give you the appropriate scalability?””

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