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Cisco accelerates the branch

Cisco rolls WAN optimization, application acceleration and Wide Area File Services (WAFS) in a single branch box to complement its Application Control Engine (ACE) data center optimization product.

Cisco this week rolled out a branch office solution that offers users a consolidated infrastructure, application acceleration and the assurance that it will integrate with their existing Cisco environment.

The new WAN module, dubbed Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS), combines WAN optimization, acceleration of TCP-based applications, and Cisco's Wide Area File Services (WAFS) in a single appliance. According to Cisco, the solution lets an enterprise consolidate the branch office server and storage and backup infrastructure, providing easier management and lower costs.

WAAS is a branch box that solves problems related to traffic congestion that need some sort of optimization done at the branch. It complements Cisco's Application Control Engine (ACE), which is a data center optimization product that integrates server load balancing, application security, and unique virtual partitioning capabilities.

"If you look at this as an application problem for customers wanting to deliver applications globally and independent of user location and user access devices, then yes, enterprises will want to take a holistic approach purchasing these products," said Cindy Borovick, director of data center networks at IDC.

Meanwhile, Rob Whiteley , senior analyst, Enterprise Networking, Forrester Research, pointed out Cisco's somewhat late entry into a lucrative market space.

"Cisco has been mostly absent from the red-hot WAN optimization space. It's always had its WAFS product but nothing that could keep pace with the Riverbeds and Junipers of the world," Whiteley said. "With WAAS, Cisco at least brings the complete package together and offers a product that's predominantly on par for features and functions, and also offers a way to implement WAN optimization using your existing routing and switching infrastructure. This last point is critical because enterprises are trying to find ways of rationalizing how much infrastructure they should put in each branch."

Whiteley also said that this announcement is significant because Cisco can capitalize on a second wave of enterprises looking to invest in acceleration technologies.

Competitors selling point products versus Cisco's all-in-one module were quick to point out the advantages of staying with specialized solutions.

"Generally, we think it's great validation that Cisco recognizes this as a real customer problem. More specifically, we think it's an impressive collection of acronyms and a technology buffet," said John Fomook, director of corporate marketing at Packeteer. "At the risk of stating the obvious, Cisco is a router company. Our customers rely on us to solve application performance problems and deliver bulletproof application delivery -- not serve up acronyms."

WAAS scales to support thousands of branch offices and up to four million TCP connections while being completely transparent to customers' existing networks and enabling seamless integration with pre-established network security and WAN traffic policies.

For example, Sabre Holdings has deployed WAAS in a production environment. The company, which has about 8,900 employees scattered across 45 countries, retails travel products and provides distribution and technology solutions for the travel industry. Sabre isn't the only early adopter of the WAAS technology.

"We started with a couple of dozen customers wanting to do a beta test," said Mark Weiner, Cisco's director of marketing for Application Solutions. "That number quintupled in just a few months. A lot of those were customer initiated, not just vendor initiated."

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