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Branch Infrastructure Design: The Cloud Effect

Traditional branch office architecture is fraught with complexity as individual office needs come into play. Cloud computing promises to simplify branch design.

When designing infrastructure for corporate branch offices, you usually run up against one or more common pitfalls. Best-practice architecture documentation and common sense dictate that designing and implementing branch offices in a cookie-cutter fashion makes it much easier to manage all sites. But various factors commonly force designs to be altered to meet the needs of each individual branch.

Because of this, the architecture and, therefore, support of each branch office end up being decidedly different. Your support staff has to burn more time and resources to support disparate infrastructures -- time that could be spent on more meaningful tasks. Thankfully, the growing acceptance of cloud computing allows for an opportunity to design branch office infrastructures in a far more homogeneous manner.

In traditional branch office infrastructure architecture, everything from branch location and number and type of users to applications, security requirements, and business criticality plays a role. If the site calls for a handful of users who require only access to web-based applications, a simple Internet connection with a site-to-site VPN back to headquarters might be a logical choice. But once you ramp up the desired branch office data access, architectural complexity grows exponentially.

Branch offices that require advanced IT services include necessities like on-premises application/storage servers, WAN optimization tools, firewalls, and intrusion prevention appliances. As you can see, as requirements for various branch offices change, the infrastructure requirements, components, and support complexities must change as well.

But hope is on the horizon for those who would like to be able to deploy and support branch offices that are identical across the board. Cloud computing can dramatically reduce the number of on-premises changes required between small and large branches. Many infrastructure components commonly found in larger, more complex branch offices can now be pushed into the cloud and managed by your cloud service provider.

In essence, one day branch offices will simply be an extension of the cloud, which will be the heart and soul of the organization from an IT perspective. The location, number, type, and criticality of branch office users will become irrelevant. There will be no more need for in-house servers or storage or for complex on-premises security tools. All this complexity will be tucked neatly inside the cloud and ready for use only when needed. Not only will this streamline branch office infrastructures, but it will also greatly reduce up-front capital costs.

Traditional branch office infrastructure designs have always been a tough balancing act between cost, user requirements, and homogeneity. Cost and branch user requirements often superseded homogeneity, and you ended up with branch office infrastructures that were dramatically different from one another. But thanks to the new era of cloud computing, many of these differences soon will be offloaded and masked inside the cloud.

Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
5/29/2014 | 10:58:00 PM
Re: exceptions?
Latency will continue to be a big pain in branch offices too. Sometimes local replication of a service is done primarily for speed reasons; cloud may not necessarily fix this depending on how distributed that provision is. Whether that's any better or worse than backhauling everybody to a central location (e.g. an HQ) is another matter...
User Rank: Strategist
5/29/2014 | 11:57:47 AM
Re: exceptions?
Good points here Andrew, thanks. There's been a lot of industry effort on the cloud security front, but ultimately that loss of control and visibility is the main issue with cloud services that is difficult to overcome.
Andrew Froehlich
Andrew Froehlich,
User Rank: Moderator
5/29/2014 | 11:16:44 AM
Re: exceptions?
Hi Marcia -- great questions. There will always be exceptions to the cloud. Security, like you mentioned, is one of them. The cloud is still considered by many to be less secure than maintaining all data and applications in house. That opinion is debatable -- but with the cloud, you do lose some control and visibility. And that loss can be of great concern to IT security professionals that are tasked with highly-sensitive data. 

Other examples of where the cloud may not work include very remote branch offices that still don't have access to reliable, and fast WAN/Internet connections. In cases like this, it's still better to design the branch with local access to all the data and apps that they need.
User Rank: Strategist
5/27/2014 | 7:06:01 PM
Hi Andrew -- Are there any cases in which the cloud model might not work as well for branch offices, perhaps in industires with high-security requirements?
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