Cisco, Akamai boost branch performance with content caching

Cisco enhances WAN optimization by adding Akamai's content caching to ISR and WAAS.

Cisco will integrate Akamai's HTTP content caching technology on its Integrated Services Routers (ISR) and its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization products. The Cisco-Akamai partnership is aimed at helping enterprises reduce the bandwidth demands of rich media content consumed at branch offices and retail locations, particularly content from cloud providers.

"We're extending the Akamai platform directly into the enterprise, specifically the branch, but allowing it to run on the Cisco ISR-AX platform," said Mark Lohmeyer, vice president of product management in Cisco's enterprise networking group. "This is last-mile WAN optimization because we can cache any public cloud content. Over time we see opportunities for making the Internet WAN more enterprise-grade and more service-aware."

Content delivery network (CDN) provider Akamai typically serves Internet content providers by maintaining a global network of 150,000 caching servers. These caches reduce the distance between end users and content, which effectively accelerates the Internet for users who access Akamai customers' websites and services.

Cisco customers will have the option of buying a license from Cisco to activate Akamai Connect software on the ISR-AX and WAAS appliances, thus extending the vendor's caching technology to the enterprise.

"This isn't the first time Akamai has been involved with a [WAN optimization] vendor," said Andrew Lerner, research director for Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc. "They've previously partnered with Riverbed to optimize Office 365, SalesForce and Google apps," Lerner said. "This is a trend that is likely to continue and I would expect additional and expanded partnerships between WAN optimization controller vendors and CDN vendors moving forward."

Traditional WAN optimization technology is deployed symmetrically, with appliances deployed on either end of a network path. This approach has become less effective as enterprises have adopted Internet-based software as a service (SaaS) applications, Lerner said. WAN optimization vendors have adapted by developing asymmetric technologies or partnering with companies, like Akamai, which specialize in accelerating the Internet.

With Akamai, Cisco WAAS and ISR-AX products can cache all HTTP traffic coming into a branch, whether it's from the Internet, cloud providers or Akamai's own CDN. Network engineers will also be able to schedule caching activity for planned events. For example, if a company wants to stream training videos to all its retail stores, engineers could cache those videos at each location overnight so they don't tax the WAN during business hours.

Additionally, Cisco will be able to cache content dynamically. For instance, Akamai's algorithms can detect whether video streaming from two different URLs are identical and can remove one stream in favor of the cached content. This caching service also works across any transport medium, including broadband and MPLS.

"This provides transparent caching, URL caching, caching related to HTTP objects and applications," said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC. "The content prepositioning use case is interesting. It allows you to position content in non-peak hours. That could be training videos or any digital signage you want to have on-site -- store catalogs, for instance. This is an area where Cisco clearly feels that there are some techniques … that are not their specialty -- that Akamai has been doing for a number of years."

Matthew Norwood, a solutions engineer for a Tennessee-based systems integrator, thinks Cisco's Akamai Connect may help a select group of larger enterprises, but he worries that many companies aren't equipped to determine whether the technology will actually offer a return on investment.

"You have to have statistics in place where you know exactly what data is going where, how much, how often and what circuits are being used. You need to be able to break all of that down so when you say we're pulling X amount of traffic from these cloud providers and using Akamai software on our ISRs, we're going to see a performance increase that justifies the amount of money we're going to spend to get to that point. I don't think the expertise is there across the entire industry to do that and not have a massive amount of pain in the process. I'm not saying that the technology or architecture isn't viable. I just think these things tend to get marketed to anyone and everyone, and that just doesn't translate well to reality."

Cisco is marketing Akamai Connect as part of its Intelligent WAN architecture, a suite of technologies aimed at helping enterprises integrate multiple transport types -- including public Internet -- into a unified and secure WAN.

Cisco will sell Akamai Connect through an add-on software license on ISR-AX and WAAS. Prices will be based on the number of connections that are activated, starting at $3,000 for 200 connections. Akamai Connect will be available mid-2014.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shamus McGillicuddy, news director or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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