Of course, the core problem is that these diagrams hide the fact few people outside of the carriers know exactly what is happening to their data traffic as it moves across the cloud. In fact, the infrastructure put in place by the telecommunications companies isn't really a cloud, it's more like fog that is deliberately meant to keep you in the dark.
Until recently, most people have not needed to understand what was happening across the telecommunications infrastructure, but as the lines between the enterprise, customers and partners continue to blur, network response times across the globe are becoming more important.
Telecommunications companies, however, want you to trust them while they figure out what's the best mix of T1, ISDN and DSL lines for your organisation. But if you take that approach, you can be certain you will not get the best service for your dollar.
The good news is that real tools to help you optimise traffic across the carriers' networks are starting to show up. RouteScience, a provider of route control solutions, says its PathControl will automatically choose the best route in real time for the highest performing ISP link, so that enterprises can obtain better overall performance using any combination of two low-cost ISPs than they would using BGP (border gateway protocol), the default internet routing protocol, and two premium ISPs. And a tool about to be launched by netVmg would plug into a mirror port on a router to monitor traffic flow, making adjustments to find the best paths in real time. RouteScience concluded in a study that route control forces ISPs to further compete on price, while having to "earn" traffic by providing better performance.
But while this type of tool is potentially invaluable, the fact remains that the internet is a set of dumb pipes dependent upon -- more often than not -- aging, leased-line technology. For a smarter way to use the internet, check out companies such as SlamDunk Networks and EveryPath, both of which have created an overlay on top of the internet that prioritises traffic.
All of these developments are good because they will help prod carriers into providing higher value services at a reasonable cost. By late this year a number of providers should also be offering routing services at a very attractive rate. The idea that IT organisations need to deploy their own routers everywhere is antiquated in this day and age. Beyond that, carriers may even some day leverage web services technologies to deliver applications in a cost-effective manner. But that day is still probably more than two years away.
In the meantime, the more pressure IT organisations put on their carriers the better. These organisations only respond when pushed, and the only way you can push them is to know the capabilities and limitations of their infrastructure better than they do.
Vizard is editor in chief of US IDG publication InfoWorld.