With the rise of remote workers and the slow decline of hub-and-spoke wide area networks (WANs), the ability to deliver software-based WAN optimization to the desktop is becoming critical.
WAN optimization appliances are no longer enough, because traffic generated by remote workers and small branch offices doesn't always travel through the data centers and regional offices where the appliances sit. Mesh networks such as MPLS now enable workers at home offices and small braches to communicate directly with one another via Voice over IP (VoIP) and video. And that traffic competes with critical time-sensitive applications.
"You might not have that traffic going through a central site," said Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton, Metzler and Associates. "In the old days, two or three years ago, we relied on a device in a central site for optimization. We made some implicit assumptions that we could put this stuff in that central spoke to manage that stuff. That approach is going away."
Metzler said WAN optimization vendors are responding to this trend by developing or acquiring software-based products that are more affordable and offer more flexible deployment options.
One such vendor, Expand Networks, announced today an agreement to acquire NetPriva, a developer of software-based WAN optimization.
NetPriva develops a lightweight software client that delivers socket-level QoSand visibility on PCs, allowing enterprises to understand and control application traffic at the edge. The software features Layer 7 visibility, which allows it to recognize the application traffic flows it is optimizing.
"We're seeing a change in application traffic flows in the enterprise," said Adam Davison, vice president of corporate marketing and sales for Expand. "There's direct communication through Voice over IP, for example, or video or real-time application traffic. You may have users in remote branch offices wanting to talk to someone sitting in the middle of an airport. We need to understand those traffic flows, and we need to be able to control them."
"Our classical approach to handling that was to have a remote appliance that provided QoS, WAN optimization, visibility management and control," said Efi Gatmor, CTO of Expand. "And that one device would take care of the traffic that flows from the remote branch."
But those appliances couldn't optimize the traffic generated by -- for instance -- two remote workers who are speaking to each other directly via VoIP. That traffic goes from remote user to remote user without touching the appliance sitting in a data center.
Metzler said NetPriva gives Expand a tool that can cost-effectively provide remote workers and employees in small offices with the same kind of WAN optimization they associate with appliances.
"In the old days, just two or three years ago, the only way to get this solution was by buying an appliance -- and that's pricey," Metzler said. "Now, a number of vendors are offering software-only solutions. Not everyone works out of a headquarters or branch office. I work out of my home. You need a solution that will work for small branch offices and for home office workers. And putting a multi-thousand-dollar appliance in my house is probably not the right solution."
The challenge many vendors face, however, is developing a software-based solution that is lightweight enough to fit on a laptop or desktop PC.
"The last thing you want if you're optimizing your performance is to put this piece of heavy software on your PC," Metzler said. "It consumes all the CPU resources. 'Gee, if only you had a bigger computer, I could optimize your communications!' "
Metzler has been testing NetPriva on his own PC and said the technology is extremely lightweight and effective. He said that NetPriva's software will allow remote workers to run VoIP and video applications without affecting critical latency-sensitive business applications.
"[NetPriva's technology] was very impressive," he said. "I was sending out big files and watching videos. The video quality was fine, and the big files got sent out. It's pretty impressive in terms of its capabilities."
"[NetPriva has] socket-level QoS and visibility, so on the PC side of things, we are now able to see, understand and control the traffic at the PC level and at the application level," Davison said. "We will be able to make sure traffic communicates directly with one another rather than through a data center."
Gatmor said that Expand is developing a software client for its own WAN optimization that will be deployed early next year. The company plans to integrate NetPriva's technology into that client.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor