Better cloud application response time: An overview of partner options

Cloud application response time is a sticking point for customers, but not all providers have the capital to build a CDN from scratch. Partnerships may be a sound alternative.

Editor's note: This is the second part of a three-part tip series on developing services to improve cloud application response time for customers. Don't miss the first part of this series: Improving cloud computing performance: A path for revenue growth.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) will eventually become a commodity, but that isn't necessarily catastrophic news for cloud providers. They can and should seek higher margins and new revenue streams by adding managed services that complement a soon-to-be-humdrum cloud hosting product.

Cloud providers need only look at one of the top barriers to entry for many customers: ensuring application performance in the cloud. But cloud application response time doesn't have to be a barrier anymore. Instead, it can be an avenue for growth for cloud providers that develop application acceleration services.

There are two branches of technology available to cloud providers: Application acceleration and wide area network (WAN) optimization appliances or content delivery networks (CDNs). Both focus on the network, and they are not mutually exclusive.

In the past, it was all about application uptime, but now it's all about application response time.

Vab Goel
Founder, Virtela

Certainly, cloud acceleration services based on these technologies can be built from the ground up with the right hardware and software. But not all cloud providers have the capital to construct a CDN from scratch or purchase thousands of WAN optimization software licenses. In the second part of this tip series, we will cover some of the partnership opportunities both incumbent and up-and-coming wholesalers and suppliers offer in this space.

CDN partners that improve cloud app response time

Some cloud providers are big enough to build their own CDN. Amazon, for example, built its CloudFront CDN service to improve cloud application response time for Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. Not every cloud provider has Amazon's resources, however.

Partnering with established CDN providers, such as Akamai or Limelight Networks, or even with emerging players like OnApp, enables smaller cloud providers to supply customers with the benefits of a CDN without making the capital investment required to build one.

OnApp -- which sells its cloud, CDN and storage platforms exclusively to service providers -- has a different delivery model than the incumbents, which operate extensive, proprietary networks. OnApp federates its partners -- cloud providers running its CDN platform -- to create a worldwide footprint that improves cloud application response time as it grows with each new provider. As of early 2012, more than 60 cloud providers have become part of OnApp's federated CDN.

Participating providers rent excess capacity to and from each other; the providers name their own rates and can shop by price, location or other factors, like data center reliability. OnApp centrally manages the CDN, functioning as a service broker and pocketing a fee for each transaction.

CloudFlare is another potential CDN partner that offers an alternative to incumbents' models. Whereas providers like Akamai cater to and price for high-volume content distribution needs, CloudFlare targets the lower end of the market. The company had more than 1,000 providers offering its CDN services as a single-click add-on by early 2012, and it has continued to bring on another 10 new providers every day, on average, according to CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince. Although CloudFlare has not traditionally shared revenue for those CDN services with providers, Prince said he plans to implement a reseller program in which CloudFlare wholesales the service to cloud provider partners.

WAN-Optimization-as-a-Service partner opportunities

Cloud hosting providers can build their own service offerings around WAN optimization products, such as Riverbed's Steelhead appliances or Cisco Systems' Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) software. But deploying and profitably delivering such services in the cloud is labor-intensive and expensive. An easier path for many cloud providers may be to partner with a WAN-Optimization-as-a-Service provider.

Some cloud-based WAN optimization providers built their services using commercial products. Akamai partnered with Riverbed to launch a service that embeds Riverbed's WAN optimization software into Akamai's edge servers, accelerating cloud application response time for several Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers.

The service, Steelhead Cloud Accelerator, is available through Riverbed's channel partner program and priced by Akamai in a subscription-based model. Akamai has indicated that it does have plans to selectively introduce the service into its channel; several Akamai channel partners have already begun to offer it, according to Neil Cohen, vice president of product marketing.

Check out the rest of this series

Improving cloud computing performance: A path for revenue growth

Cloud APM services win customer trust by monitoring app performance

Aryaka, a WAN-Optimization-as-a-Service provider, offers a proprietary, symmetric platform that's tailored to cloud-based WAN optimization. It has specific partner programs for cloud providers, resellers, integrators and network operators.

"Our network brings the intelligence that usually sits in the customer's premises into the cloud," said Sonal Puri, Aryaka's vice president of marketing and sales. "We deliver WAN Optimization as a Service from our [points of presence] using a software stack that is built to be multi-tenant, that can scale quickly on the same server, and is not limited to a few cloud applications. We can accelerate any cloud applications for any enterprise located anywhere over one, optimized network."

Virtela, another WAN Optimization as a Service provider, partners with more than 500 carriers worldwide and allows partners to white label its cloud-based WAN optimization service, which is part of its Enterprise Services Cloud architecture. The homegrown, patent-pending optimization software, which can be used to improve cloud application response time, is sold with usage- or subscription-based pricing models.

"In the past, it was all about application uptime, but now it's all about application response time," said Virtela founder Vab Goel.

Virtela's service may run on any provider's network, including Virtela's overlay network.

There are related partnership opportunities with content acceleration providers, which focus on streamlining the delivery of websites and browser-based applications -- an area of particular interest to cloud providers. Some service providers and suppliers in this space that show promise include Strangeloop Networks, Aptimize (acquired by Riverbed) and Limelight Networks.

Strangeloop licenses its technology to providers as software or as a service. Aptimize is available only as a product, and Limelight Accelerate is available only as a service. The content acceleration technologies are sophisticated and dynamic because they must be very application-aware and rewrite webpages without breaking any of their elements.

Coming up: Optimization and CDNs aren't the only ways to ensure good cloud-application response time. Performance monitoring and reporting are also essential for cloud providers to offer as a service. 

About the author: Rebecca Wetzel is a principal with NetForecast and also is president of the marketing consulting firm, Wetzel Consulting LLC. She provides data communications industry insight and helps vendors and service providers develop successful marketing strategies.

This was first published in May 2012

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