Application networking: Cisco may be killing ACE, but not WAAS!

Cisco is killing ACE, but not WAAS. In a world where application networking involves load balancing and WAN optimization, can Cisco win?

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Cisco wants the world to stop confusing WAAS and ACE.

The Application Control Engine (ACE) is a load balancer that Cisco is apparently retiring, while the Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) line focuses on WAN optimization, which Cisco has no plans to abandon.

But much of the industry is moving toward a more holistic view of application networking, where WAN optimization and load balancing are part of a larger solution. This view is creating a bit of a Cisco PR nightmare. Some reporters and bloggers, who have written about the end of ACE, have lumped this in with problems related to WAAS. Now Cisco wants to set the record straight.

"Rumors of WAAS' demise have been greatly exaggerated. Cisco is fully committed to the WAAS business," wrote vice president of marketing Mark Lohmeyer in the Cisco blog.

In a phone conversation, Cisco routing and WAAS senior director Inbar Lasser-Raab said, "ACE and WAAS are like apples and oranges -- they are two separate product lines." The only real connection between the two is that they are both for accelerating traffic, she added. The product lines have different engineering teams, and Lasser-Raab reminded me that Cisco launched new WAAS products this year and WAAS AppNav Virtualization Technology won Best of Interop in Las Vegas in the spring.

So why the confusion?

SearchNetworking did not confuse the two. We quoted an analyst, who suggested that Cisco consider replacing its load balancer by partnering with a company like Riverbed, which could provide a software Application Delivery Controller (ADC) that might live inside a Cisco Unified Compute System (UCS) server. With such a partnership, the analyst suggested, Cisco should consider tossing aside its WAAS product and taking on the Riverbed WAN optimization product as part of the deal.

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Other bloggers haven't necessarily confused the two, but have referred to them both in the same light. Twilight in the Valley of the Nerds blogger Brad Casemore (who also writes for SearchNetworking) said, "Cisco's primary problem in areas such as load balancing and WAN optimization, as it has been expressed to me by former Cisco executives, is that the company strategically understands that it needs to play in these markets, but that it invariably fails to make the commitment necessary to success."

Meanwhile, Ethereal Mind blogger Greg Ferro (who also writes for SearchNetworking) said, "I've used the Cisco ACE and it's a moderately competent load balancer. It's missing many features or functions and generally hard to configure and maintain. Cisco WAAS has a well-earned reputation for poor quality and reliability, and while they claim that 4.0 is pretty good, I don't believe in WAN acceleration."

Why so many references to the two at once? For one thing, many third-party network services companies sell both WAN optimization and ADCs because those both focus on application networking. In fact, these companies refer to themselves as Layer 4-7 networking solution providers.

Many analysts, bloggers, reporters and, most importantly, engineers believe that we are moving toward a unified strategy in application-aware, Layer 4-7 networking. ADCs and WAN optimization solutions are the cornerstones of this approach. To be fair, Cisco has been a thought leader in application-aware networking, but it fell short on the load balancing.

Lasser-Raab highlights the difference in ADCs and WAN optimization by pointing out that ADCs work in the data center while WAN optimization appliances find their role in the network that delivers applications to branch offices and remote workers. It is the cloud that has confused these two, she says. WAN optimization has become even more necessary as more remote workers access applications within the cloud, but ADCs must simultaneously play their role in the data center to serve these applications up.

That's all true, but it will be a battle for Cisco PR to continue highlighting the difference in the technologies as so many move away from drawing that line in the sand.

This was first published in September 2012
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