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Mobile WAN optimization arrives for enterprise Android tablets

Despite the scarcity of mobile WAN optimization clients for tablets and smartphones, WAN managers must still ensure reliable, high-performance connectivity for users.

It's only a matter of time before users will want to do more than check email, show presentations and play Angry Birds on enterprise tablets and smartphones. As mobile device adoption rises, complex business applications for these new endpoints will follow. Mobile WAN optimization clients developed for tablets and smartphones are scarce today, but wide area network (WAN) managers must still ensure reliable, high-performance connectivity for users.

Until recently, mobile WAN optimization products have targeted traditional road warrior gear: laptops and netbooks. Powerful and lightweight smartphones and tablets are replacing these devices, but most WAN optimization vendors have not added support for them. Software-based WAN optimization vendor Circadence recently announced what it claims to be the first mobile WAN optimization client developed specifically for enterprise Android devices.

"It's not a question of 'if' but 'when' you'll have these more complex applications delivered on these tablet platforms," said Jim Frey, research director at Enterprise Management Associates. A mobile WAN optimization client designed for them "improves the likelihood that [enterprises] will be able to really leverage this new technology for all that it's capable of delivering," he added.

WAN managers working in government and the health care industry will likely be the early adopters because their users are sharing large amounts of data and are unlikely to be chained to desks, Frey said. But enterprises that start doing large file transfers and streaming video on tablets should also take notice, he said.

"It's still a niche market area, but the niches ... are pretty huge in their own right," he said. "You could have tens of thousands of endpoints in some of these settings that need this technology."

Processing, battery power concerns for mobile WAN optimization on tablets

Battery power, memory and processing power are scarcer on tablets and smartphones than they are on laptops, so mobile WAN optimization on these smaller mobile devices presents a particular challenge to vendors.

 Circadence claims that its core technology, which relies on a proprietary protocol rather than memory- and processor-intensive techniques like caching and compression, is particularly well-suited for mobile WAN optimization. 

"Even on a laptop client, a lot of [mobile WAN optimization products] require four to six gigs of hard drive space because of that cache requirement," said Circadence CTO Rob Shaughnessy. "Putting that on a phone would just be silly ... and the processing required to handle that would practically set your pocket on fire."

Circadence already supports mobile WAN optimization for Windows CE clients and expects to support Apple iOS devices soon. It built the capabilities for its WAN optimization software, MVO, around a proprietary protocol that essentially functions as an enhanced User Diagram Protocol (UDP) packet.

Using TCP/IP over a wired connection has enabled WAN managers to build reliable networks, but TCP struggles on mobile devices because of its sensitivity to packet loss, Shaughnessy said. Conversely, UDP, a "dumb" protocol typically used to speed up streaming media, isn't reliable enough to be used for all data traversing a WAN, he said.

Putting [the hard drive space necessary for caching] on a phone would just be silly ... and the processing required to handle that would practically set your pocket on fire.

Rob Shaughnessy
CTO, Circadence

Circadence sought to take the best qualities of both protocols when it built its proprietary protocol, TMP, which takes a barebones UDP packet and dresses it up with a lightweight header to guarantee flow control and reliable packet delivery, Shaughnessy said. TCP wasn't used as the foundation because its header contains too much information that slows performance but can't be removed, he said.

When a client makes a request over TCP, Circadence's software captures that traffic and wraps it up in TMP before it's sent over the WAN. The WAN optimization controller in the data center receives the traffic, takes it out of TMP and sends the packets to their destination in their original form. The software uses some caching and compression but "doesn't rely on it," which is crucial for supporting mobile WAN optimization on tablets and smartphones, Shaughnessy said.

The processing and battery power necessary for wrapping up and removing TMP—which occurs on the network interface card—is relatively minimal compared to the resources that caching and compression demand, he said.

Riverbed Technology, which supports Steelhead Mobile on Windows and Mac clients, shied away from sharing its roadmap for tablets and smartphones but acknowledged these challenges in an emailed statement. Spokespeople at Riverbed declined a phone interview due to a "quiet period" as its quarterly earnings reports approach.

"We recognize the growing interest in optimization for smartphones and mobile devices, such as the iPad," wrote Naveen Prabhu, product marketing manager at Riverbed. "While the mobile market is quickly maturing, we're only now beginning to see resources like memory and CPU required to handle software like ours. And as the demand continues to grow, we'll explore how best to address this need."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.

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