WAN optimization (WAN acceleration)

WAN optimization -- also known as WAN acceleration -- is the category of technologies and techniques used to maximize the efficiency of data's flow across a wide area network (WAN), between organizations' centralized data centers and their remote locations. In an enterprise WAN, the goal of optimization is to increase the speed with which end users can access business-critical applications and information, by overcoming network latency, minimizing packet loss and mitigating capacity limitations.

WAN optimization tools have been around since the early days of enterprise wide area networking, when bandwidth requirements first started to exceed availability. At the time, connectivity options were limited, with organizations relying on expensive MPLS links to connect their branch offices and data centers. WAN optimization helped network managers achieve more efficient bandwidth usage -- improving application performance without dramatically increasing spending with carriers.

Although it has evolved over the past several decades, WAN optimization technology is still in use today. WAN accelerator appliances might be physical or virtual, and they may be sold as stand-alone products or as part of software-defined WAN platforms. Vendors include Blue Coat Systems (acquired by Symantec), Cato Networks, Citrix, Riverbed Technology, Silver Peak Systems, F5 Networks and Fortinet, among others.

How does WAN optimization work?

WAN optimization works to overcome latency, minimize packet loss and increase network throughput. It accomplishes this via an array of complementary WAN optimization techniques and technologies, including the following:

  • Data caching stores frequently used information on a local host or server for faster access in the future. Because data doesn't have to travel from its point of origin to its destination over and over again, caching lightens the burden on the network.
  • Data deduplication identifies and eliminates redundant copies of data. This reduces the amount of information that must be sent across a WAN for remote backups, replication and disaster recovery.
  • Data compression shrinks the size of data to minimize bandwidth use.
  • Network monitoring identifies nonessential traffic. By creating and enforcing rules about downloads and internet use, WAN optimization appliances can prioritize the performance of critical applications over less important ones.
  • Protocol acceleration, or protocol spoofing, minimizes the burden a chatty protocol puts on the WAN. This method works by bundling chatty protocols so they are, in effect, a single protocol -- resulting in fewer packet headers and network handshakes.
  • Traffic shaping prioritizes traffic and allots bandwidth accordingly.
This was last updated in December 2019

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