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WAN acceleration goes remote

Remote workers have long been ignored in the WAN acceleration space, but one vendor is coming out with a tool to include them, which could also spark a new trend.

When it comes to WAN acceleration, remote workers have long been considered the "ignored step-child."

People who work from home, on the go, off-site or from remote offices have been left out by the lack of an end-to-end WAN acceleration tool. Without one, accessing large and necessary business applications can be a time-consuming, unreliable struggle, which can often result in lost packets and wasted time.

Noting this growing need, Orbital Data recently launched the OrbitalEdge, a WAN acceleration product that extends to off-site users through a software client. Until recently, WAN accelerators have been limited to linking data centers and large branch offices. They typically require a hardware-based appliance at each end of the WAN link, which can be too expensive for home offices, smaller branch offices and mobile or remote users.

OrbitalEdge, however, is a client software that can be run on any remote user's laptop or desktop and can be used anywhere, bringing high speed application access to virtually any location, bridging the gap between off-site users and speedy WAN access.

David Moran, director of application development for Houston-based Smith International Inc., a manufacturer and field services supplier for the drilling industry, knows how critical speed can be when transferring data across hundreds and thousands of miles, often from isolated rigs in places like Calgary, Alta. Moran, and others in the industry, have been working on applications that monitor the drilling process in near real time, but the XML-based apps took anywhere from eight to 10 seconds to ping-pong between the site and the data center. That type of latency could delay information about problems that require immediate attention.

"The speed is critical," Moran said. "If we're really going to behave in a real-time mode, we have to be able to identify any problems and fix them quickly. It's not real-time unless you have enough time to recognize the trend and fix it."

With OrbitalEdge, Moran said, he's been able to boost access to time sensitive and critical data necessary to monitor drilling and to transfer information while also allowing it to travel through an encrypted and authenticated data stream. Now application-response time has improved to less than two seconds.

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 "With many oilfield drilling rigs distributed throughout the world, our company is constantly challenged with long communication delays over satellite links between these locations and our data center in Houston," Moran said. "We need fast response time in order to provide the real-time monitoring and control required by drilling rigs … The network hardware required for traditional WAN acceleration products was too expensive and impractical to support for drilling rigs in the field, and our customers didn't want a new dedicated piece of hardware on their rigs in any event."

Burton Group senior analyst Eric Siegel said as far as he can tell, Orbital Data is the first to market with such a WAN acceleration product, but he says he wouldn't be surprised if the competition, including Riverbed Technology Inc., Stampede Technologies, Juniper Networks, F5 Networks, Packeteer, Silver Peak, Cisco Systems Inc. and other WAN acceleration and optimization vendors, quickly follow.

"This is really for people who are never near the office and have to use these shared files," Siegel said. "It makes things a lot easier. This is really extending a solution to those who never had it before."

Before remote WAN acceleration, off-site users had to rely on other systems like caching and compression, which could present additional challenges. Encrypted files can't be compressed, and caching can be unreliable. Another WAN acceleration and optimization tool, wide area file services, or WAFS, is not designed to allow more than one person to access central files.

"This is really a way you're actually connected to the file in real time," Siegel said. "None of the other things do that."

According to Gordon Smith, Orbital Data's marketing vice president, OrbitalEdge can increase application response time by as much as 500% and increase WAN throughput by up to 100 times and support up to 50,000 users. It supports a variety of applications, including HTTP for Web applications, HTTPS for secure traffic; CIFS for Windows remote file systems; FTP for file transfers and SOAP and AJAX for service-oriented architectures.

OrbitalEdge combines three elements from Orbital Data's WAN acceleration and optimization suite, including the downloadable OrbitalEdge client software, the Orbital 7300 appliance for data center deployment and the Orbital Management System (OMS). OMS is the centralized management system that enables configuring of OrbitalEdge clients, automatic updating of client software, creating policies for performance and security management, aggregating log files form clients and appliances and generating reports on usage and performance.

"With the rapid growth in the number of distributed knowledge workers who are working form home, from the road or from small remote branch offices, fast access to business applications over the WAN is critical," said Matthias Machowinsi, directing analyst for Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics Research. "Current WAN acceleration solutions have focused on site-to-site optimization for large sites only, leaving much of the remote user base underserved."

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