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Adrian Sunderland
Adrian Sunderland of Griffin

In our regular IP Insight column this month Adrian Sunderland of Griffin provides a technical view of the cloud and MPLS.

Last month Andrew Dickinson wrote about the hype surrounding Cloud and what the opportunities are for the channel. He particularly highlighted that the reliability, performance and security of Internet connectivity are holding back many businesses from trusting all their data to the cloud. Finally, he suggested that the tremendous growth Griffin has experienced from the channel for MPLS is being driven by these very same concerns.

I would like to provide a technical view of the Cloud and MPLS that actually shows that the two are more closely linked than you may first realise.

One of the problems is that the two solutions usually come from completely different types of supplier. Cloud is associated with software vendors like Microsoft, VMware and Google whilst MPLS is more often associated with BT or C&W. Sure, the telcos will claim some cloud wins, but they’re statistically insignificant compared to their connectivity business. The software guys will usually talk about the ubiquity of high bandwidth Internet access meaning they don’t need to worry about connectivity.

However, I’d like to ignore vendors and break it down a step further.


Cloud for me is about delivering services on a pay-as-you-use basis using IP as a transport protocol and by virtualising or multitenanting computer processing power that is located somewhere other than the customer premises.

MPLS is a technology for virtualising or multi-tenanting network processing power that is located somewhere other than the customer premises.

So, what’s the difference really? In Griffin’s view there is no difference. We have the same fundamental technology strategy, regardless of whether we’re thinking about how we build a computing platform or how we build a networking platform. In our view it makes sense to virtualise. Virtualisation enables expensive equipment to be able to be partitioned and shared between different customers and different types of services. This reduces cost to serve, reduces power consumption and reduces operational expenses.

So, the Griffin network is one network. We use MPLS to differentiate between services and to enable customers to use our network as if it were their own private network, with all the control that it provides. This is a different approach to many traditional telcos that have many networks with all the associated increase in costs and complexity.

In the Griffin data centres we have one computing architecture. We use VMware vSphere to virtualise our servers and a Storage Area Network to virtualise our storage. We can deliver multiple different software services using any operating system using common server hardware. Separating the virtual servers from the physical servers and the storage from the physical disk drives means the platform is extremely scaleable and reliable.

Now, the really clever bit, and the bit I think is tremendously exciting for the channel, is that the Griffin network and the Griffin computing infrastructure are totally integrated with each other. So, a customer can have their own private network using MPLS and their own private servers within that network using the VMware virtual machines.

Of course, virtual machines don’t have to be run and managed by the end-customers themselves, in fact if truth be known most small to medium-sized businesses would probably rather not have to worry about looking after servers. Virtual machines could instead be operated by you, the channel.

Virtual machines can be linked to multiple MPLS networks and even to the Internet. So a channel partner could install MS Exchange on a virtual machine, Citrix on another and perhaps a software PBX on another and provide their customers with email, desktop and voice services, either securely within an MPLS network or over the Internet.

Going back to Andrew’s column last month; he is right about the pace of migration to the Cloud, and also about the volume of business the channel is doing with MPLS. However, I am convinced there is an as yet untapped potential for the channel to build their own private clouds to deliver the benefits of MPLS and the cloud and be able to overcome the usual objections that come with public cloud solutions.

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