Wide area network (WAN) optimization has moved from nice-to-have to must-have for all but the smallest businesses, and almost all would be happy to outsource the complexity -- if they could find a service provider with the right offering.
Today, only about 10% of network professionals choose to outsource WAN optimization, according to Forrester Research.
But that same research predicts that the number could jump to 30% within two years -- if the providers offering the services do the hands-on work necessary to deliver the optimization today's enterprises need.
Forrester principal analyst Rob Whiteley said the key for the most successful WAN optimization offerings would be whether the operator is willing to get cozy with customer site locations.
"A service provider can do [WAN optimization] as well as an enterprise or better if they're willing to put equipment on every single customer premise," he said. Other, less manual optimization techniques [that] service providers have tried offering just do not deliver the results customers demand.
Telecom operators should also balance the flexibility to work with an enterprise's specific needs with a solid, standardized portfolio of services and platforms.
When Walter Weber of R.E. Mason Co. was shopping for WAN optimization technology, he met roadblocks that prevented him from buying a hosted service. The IT director of the Charlotte, N.C.-based process automation company found that the diverse providers that served his different remote offices were not interested in working together to deliver WAN optimization across his business.
Larger service providers are often happy to overlook such differences for a big enough customer, but Whiteley emphasized that the primary optimization tool was the on-site equipment and not the underlying network, giving operators leeway to gain customers who are not using them exclusively.
Service providers also might consider marketing their flexibility in management: Verizon Business, for example, sends WAN optimization experts out to customers on a quarterly basis to meet with their IT organizations about WAN optimization strategies. "Our application analyst will sit down with the client and recommend changes on what to do with the network," said Steve Capozzi, manager of managed WAN optimization services product marketing for Verizon Business. "That's really important because something like a tax program, which is really important in the first quarter, isn't really important in the third quarter."
Many network administrators are simply happy to rid themselves of the complexity and cost associated with delivering WAN optimization in-house, Whiteley said.
British Telecom, which he cited as a leader in such managed service offerings, was often able to deliver WAN optimization more cheaply than customers could do themselves, while offering service-level agreements (SLAs) that go beyond network performance to actual application performance.
"If you let them put gear on premises, they'll guarantee that your SAP transactions are 2.2 seconds or less 99.9% of the time," Whiteley said. "That's a much more valuable thing to sell, and it gets you out of the issue of how many bits did you actually sell, and [companies] want a discount because you only transferred half as many bits [due to network caching]."
Such application-level guarantees, he said, offer telecoms hope of getting out of the dumb pipe business even as they build deeper relationships -- and higher-level contacts -- with their customers.
"You see more innovative members of the team nodding their heads and saying, 'If we don't get out of bits per month, it's a race to the bottom,' " he said.
It's also a source of new business in which operators have plenty of room to develop mindshare.
"WAN optimization itself is a new technology, and people are nervous about new technologies," Capozzi said. "Once people get into it, they realize it's a lot more intense and involved than they realize."
Have a question, comment or suggestion about this story or another topic? E-mail news writer Michael Morisy at firstname.lastname@example.org.