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Top WAN news 2010: Application, cloud performance now part of the job

From improving cloud performance to managing application performance, WAN pros' responsibilities changed profoundly this year, as reflected in our top five news trends of 2010.

Although 2010 was not marked by many game-changing technologies for wide area networks (WANs), a review of the top news stories published on this past year highlights the profound changes in the expectations and responsibilities that WAN professionals face. It's not just about uptime anymore. Whether they were asked to improve cloud performance, manage application performance or plan IPv6 migration strategies, WAN pros had to adapt to unfamiliar roles and responsibilities. In no particular order, here is our take on the most important news trends affecting WAN pros in 2010:

  • Cloud performance falls into WAN pros' laps:  Maybe the possibility of everything-as-a-service gives you goosebumps. Maybe you want to strangle whoever it was at Microsoft who decided to desecrate Adam West with those "to the cloud!" commercials. Either way, this year showed us that enterprises rely on WAN pros to work some cloud performance magic when that new Software as a Service (SaaS) application chokes in a data center 3,000 miles away. We learned that enterprises that backhaul Internet traffic over the WAN will face the biggest cloud performance problems, and buying more bandwidth is likely to do squat. Some enterprises are deploying WAN optimization to boost private cloud computing infrastructure, but how can IT control the public cloud? Riverbed Technology unveiled Cloud Steelhead, its answer to improving public cloud performance -- a release WAN pros welcomed, albeit with a smidge of skepticism.

  • Managing, improving WAN application performance: As legend has it, WAN pros once lived in the lower depths of the OSI model and rarely poked their heads above Layer 4. They worried about sub-Layer 4 things, such as  whether the network was up or down or how to root out and unclog packet choke points. As enterprises consolidated more data centers and piled responsibilities on networking pros over the past year, WAN managers were expected to work within Layer 7 on WAN application performance management. Although one expert suggests WAN pros spend less money on tools and look inward to improve WAN application performance, networking pros are adopting WAN application performance monitoring tools that enable automated or manual application performance management. WAN pros say they like how the analytics offer insight into WAN optimization ROI and speak to both networking pros and CIOs.

  • More devices and mobility, less control: This year, WAN managers found out how much mobility a mobile workforce wants to have. Users now expect ubiquitous and consistent WAN access from anywhere and on any device -- be it a company-issued iPad at a client's office or a personal netbook at a conference. Some organizations are getting creative with mobile VPN clients, while others find ways to simplify secure remote access. But many enterprises continue to struggle to enable mobility amid rising expectations for WAN application performance -- never mind the implications for WAN security. Even though Cisco Systems Inc. aimed its "Borderless Networks" product suite at secure mobility, experts say WAN pros will need to think bigger than SSL VPNs as they lose more control over the devices and locations from which users connect.

  • Taking the first steps toward IPv6 migration: WAN managers have been hearing about the upcoming depletion of IPv4 addresses for years and have come to regard it as the little protocol that cried wolf. As the year comes to a close, less than 3% of IPv4 addresses remain free for allotment. The time has come for enterprises to get their IPv6 transition strategies in gear -- if only for Internet-facing services for now. For those WAN pros making the jump in 2011, they must ensure that all of their devices and systems are IPv6-ready. Although most vendors have enabled the next-generation protocol on their products, some still offer incomplete or no native support for the IPv6 migration. For the uninitiated, overwhelmed or understaffed, service providers began to launch IPv6-specific professional consulting services toward the end of the year.

  • Software router offers turbo speeds, challenge to Cisco?: Although not the splashiest IT news item of the year (philandering former Oracle CEO Charles Phillips probably claims that prize), this story was one of readers' favorites: Intel's research lab prototyped a software router on server clusters, which its engineers claimed could achieve up to 40 Tbps of throughput if scaled properly. Although WAN pros are all too familiar with the dichotomy between what software developers achieve in a lab versus how systems function on a live network, the project showed that software-based routers have the potential to compete with more expensive hardware routers from Cisco and other vendors.

See more of's 2010 year in review:

Read the top 10 WAN news stories of 2011

Dig Deeper on WAN technologies and services

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