As the relatively young market for managed WAN optimization services continues to evolve, wide area network (WAN) managers are getting more choices and say over which vendor's technology to deploy. No longer do enterprises have to be locked into whatever sweetheart deal their service providers may have inked with a particular preferred vendor.
"The market is changing a bit, in that initially, you found that almost everybody was offering Cisco, and then you would find they probably had a second [choice], which was usually either Riverbed or Juniper as an alternative," said Phil Sayer, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "What they were really saying was, 'We just want to launch the service and look after a single vendor's equipment,' but gradually the market has moved on to the point where all of them support three or four vendors."
Although WAN managers are gaining more managed WAN optimization options, they also have more decisions to make. In addition to vendor choice, service providers sell managed WAN optimization services in a variety of setups -- ranging from remotely managing equipment that enterprises buy or rent to software-based WAN optimization deployed centrally from the service provider's network.
Orange Business Services -- the managed services arm of the France Télécom group -- was the latest to extend its vendor portfolio, adding Riverbed Technology's appliances to the mix as part of Orange's standard managed WAN optimization service packages, according to Richard Heaps, head of product management for consulting and solutions integration at Orange.
The French telco had sold a limited and custom-ordered array of managed WAN optimization services with Riverbed's technology since 2006, Heaps said, but the extension into Orange's standard portfolio means customers will get more services and an op-ex pricing model, as they would with the telco's other vendor partners, Blue Coat Systems, Juniper Networks and Paris-based Ipanema Technologies.
"One of the reasons we have all the vendors in this portfolio is that, for quite some time, there hasn't been one vendor that approaches every problem," Heaps said. "We've always had a vendor-agnostic approach to application performance and WAN optimization."
Verizon Business -- which currently offers standard package managed WAN optimization services with Cisco Systems and Juniper gear -- will also include Riverbed in its standard offerings within the next three months, according to Steve Capozzi, senior product marketing manager for Verizon's managed WAN optimization services. The operator's enterprise unit currently offers Riverbed support on a custom basis.
Enterprises expect flexibility in how they provision managed WAN optimization services from providers, said Ron Haigh, vice president of technology and customer solutions for Virtela Communications, an independent managed network services company. Virtela supports WAN op gear from Riverbed, Cisco, Juniper and Citrix Systems and will work with enterprises' existing infrastructure.
Some service providers will outright identify a "preferred" vendor during a WAN audit, but that practice is fading, according to Sayer. Orange learned the hard way that it's better to keep a more vendor-neutral approach, Heaps said.
"About two or three years ago, a customer came to us asking for a specific vendor, and then [that vendor] didn't deliver what he expected," he said. "That transitioned from it being his problem to it being our problem.… That's why we're quite careful."
Network audit a must when choosing managed WAN optimization services
Like most service providers in this space, Orange and Verizon will audit a customer's WAN to determine which products and services they deem most suitable for the enterprise's needs, said the operators' representatives.
"You can have the same two networks with the same five applications running on them, and Vendor A might work better on one, and Vendor B might work better on the other," Capozzi said. "It's not just network design; it's not just the application. It's how the customer uses the application that's going to determine [the most appropriate technology for] WAN optimization services."
These kinds of consultations or even "bakeoffs" are critical, Sayer said, noting that "if they don't do that, you're just going to waste money."
Despite the way service providers market themselves, WAN managers should note that some carriers have their own objectives -- to raise revenue, according to Sayer, who analyzed the expanded offerings in the market in a research note, The Time is Right For WAN Optimization Managed Services, as they first emerged early in 2009.
"You need to be a cunning buyer of anything," Sayer commented, "but with WAN optimization, half of it is minimizing bandwidth, and that means minimizing bandwidth spend. So the question often asked is, 'Should I trust my service provider to minimize my bill for me?'"
"The service providers will go to great lengths to emphasize that they have independent professional services divisions that are there to do a good job for you," he added. "They say that if they didn't do a good job, it would soon get around the market and people wouldn't use them. But if you're using [managed WAN optimization services from] your service provider to minimize their bill, you do need to put a bit more effort into making sure that's what they're [doing]."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer