Editor's note: In part one of our three-part series on buying WAN optimization appliances, we look at some of the leading appliance vendors that you may want to consider. Parts two and three look at specific WAN optimization techniques and how different vendors combine them to help you decide which products will meet the needs of your organization.
Wide area network optimization is a collection of analysis and software techniques used to improve data-transfer performance across WANs.
WAN optimization techniques are typically coded and implemented as a network appliance. WAN optimization appliances sit on network data pathways, evaluating and managing traffic on LAN and WAN gateways. Many WAN optimization vendors offer hardware appliances -- along with virtual versions of them. Among the leading suppliers are Barracuda Networks, Cisco, Dell, Riverbed Technology and Silver Peak Systems.
In general, WAN optimization appliances are not inexpensive, although prices vary significantly depending on features, configuration and capacity. WAN optimization is intended for organizations that use the WAN in sufficient bandwidth to reach multiple locations so it justifies the purchase and administration of the hardware.
In recent years, cloud computing has increased WAN traffic as organizations connect and use cloud resources or connect to geographically distant data centers in general. This traffic often involves executing applications in the cloud and providing high-bandwidth data pathways back to the organization for backup and storage.
Measuring WAN performance is fairly straightforward. In a nutshell, WAN optimization appliances analyze traffic and perform actions that compress, reduce or combine packets -- in the process making the transmission of network data more efficient.
This article identifies some of the leading WAN optimization products and compares them against established purchasing criteria to help you determine which product is best for your environment. All of the products reviewed here are hardware WAN optimization appliances that typically consist of a rackable or standalone box with a significant amount of memory and disk storage for running optimization algorithms.
Market-leading WAN optimization appliances
While a number of appliances support some form of WAN optimization, the products included here have the largest share of the market and are representative of the tradeoffs faced by organizations as they work to improve remote-application and data-transmission performance.
Barracuda Networks: Barracuda's offerings include WAN optimization as a feature in its Barracuda NG Firewall product family, which also has VPN, Layer 7 application profiling, and other networking and security features. It offers a smaller set of WAN optimization features, primarily using data compression, for smaller packet transfers. Barracuda has 11 models in the NG family, from the F10 to the F1000, each with increasing bandwidth support (from 85 Mbps to 40 Gbps) and session support (from 8,000 to 3.5 million concurrent sessions) as the model numbers increase.
Cisco: Cisco's WAN optimization is performed through its Meraki security appliances product line. Rather than offering a dedicated WAN optimization product, Cisco builds WAN optimization into its security appliances. The Meraki line offers six products intended for three separate markets. The MX60 and MX60W support up to 25 users and are intended for small branch offices. The MX80 and MX100 can manage the needs of up to 500 users for a midsize company, and the MX400 and MX600 can support up to 10,000 users for large enterprises.
Dell: The vendor's SonicWALL WXA is a standalone optimization platform, using data deduplication to minimize WAN traffic. It is offered as an appliance, as software running on Dell PowerEdge servers and as a virtual appliance.
The SonicWall WXA 2000 provides remote and branch-office WAN application performance improvements for up to 120 users and 600 concurrent sessions. The WXA 4000 supports up to 240 users and 1,200 concurrent sessions for departmental purposes. The WXA 5000 virtual appliance, engineered to reduce migration and capital costs, supports up to 360 users. WXA 6000 software, meantime, runs on Dell PowerEdge R320 servers and scales up to 2,000 users and 10,000 concurrent sessions.
Riverbed: Riverbed's SteelHead is one of the few appliances specifically focused on WAN optimization. While it supports both branch and data center use, it specializes in accelerating applications in cloud environments, including Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2. SteelHead has three main product offerings. SteelHead CX optimizes the performance of all applications across the hybrid network -- including the public Internet, virtual private networks (VPNs), and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks -- and is designed to be a high-end, high-performance option for end-user responsiveness. The DX model is primarily intended to optimize, transfer and replicate data between data centers. The EX model is designed for branch office connectivity with server virtualization and storage consolidation. Riverbed offers additional software as a service, or SaaS, mobile and combination products.
Silver Peak Systems: Silver Peak offers more than a dozen optimization products in its NX appliance portfolio, at bandwidth from 4 Mbps to 5 Gbps. The former can serve small department needs, while the latter is a full office or enterprise platform, with support for up to 12,000 simultaneous transactions. Silver Peak also offers its software separately with its VX product line, which runs on all major hypervisors.
Next: WAN optimization techniques: A variety of options
WAN optimization products: Understanding what you're looking at
WAN optimizer configuration: Make it work for you
Need to know: What to ask WAN optimization controller vendors
How WAN optimization controllers improve video delivery