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Vendors aim to improve SaaS performance with cloud WAN optimization

Vendors announced plans this week at Interop 2011 to beef up their cloud WAN optimization products, including a partnership between Riverbed and Akamai to tackle SaaS performance.

Cloud computing services sound great to C-level executives, but wide area network (WAN) managers know that life doesn't imitate PowerPoint. Subjecting a critical business application to the whims of the Internet feels like playing with fire for many WAN managers, especially because traditional WAN optimization appliances aren't built for the cloud. Responding to these cloud performance concerns, vendors announced at the Interop 2011 trade show this week in Las Vegas their plans to beef up their cloud WAN optimization products.

Riverbed Technology, which released Cloud Steelhead last year for Amazon Web Services, announced plans to address Software as a Service (SaaS) performance in a strategic alliance with Akamai Technologies, a content delivery network (CDN) and Web acceleration provider. Neither company announced a specific cloud WAN optimization product, but spokespeople for both vendors confirmed plans to integrate their software into each other's products.

Blue Coat Systems also made SaaS performance central to marketing with a recent upgrade to its caching engine, which has added support for Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), an Adobe Flash protocol for streaming audio and video.

The days of solely tinkering with Quality of Service (QoS) on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links and neatly symmetrical WAN optimization deployments are over. The trend of hybrid clouds—delivering applications from a mix of internal and cloud environments—is forcing IT pros and vendors to evolve, according to Jim Frey, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates.

"Software as a Service is not something that a wide area network manager has necessarily had responsibility for," Frey said. "But I think the future of [applications] is going to be increasingly in SaaS-type delivery models, so the traditional [approach to WAN optimization] might become less important over time."

Managing SaaS performance has been particularly vexing for WAN managers not only because that traffic traverses the Internet; networking pros have no control over the environment in which the application functions—as opposed to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) that provides control over the actual server. In an IaaS environment, a WAN manager could deploy virtual WAN optimization software to achieve some level of improvement; that option does not exist for SaaS.

Additionally, most enterprises backhaul Internet traffic from branch offices to data centers for security purposes. That extra trip tallies another strikes against SaaS performance, according to Joe Skorupa, research director at Gartner Inc.

"[A SaaS application] will go across the Internet, and in some cases, it'll have good performance. In some cases, it won't. And in many cases, it'll be unpredictable," Skorupa said. "Depending on how well the application is written, that may be a minor annoyance or it may be very ugly."

Riverbed, Akamai strike cloud WAN optimization alliance

Riverbed and Akamai expect to release a joint cloud WAN optimization product in the first quarter of 2012, according to spokespeople from both vendors. Although they declined to speculate on specific products or sales models, the spokespeople offered a joint "vision of integration" that will include some kind of marriage between their software and Akamai's CDN.

The future of [applications] is going to be increasingly in SaaS-type delivery models, so the traditional [approach to WAN optimization] might become less important over time.

Jim Frey
Managing Research Director, Enterprise Management Associates

The cloud WAN optimization partnership is aimed at improving SaaS performance, according to Neil Cohen, senior director of product marketing at Akamai. Unlike Riverbed's Cloud Steelhead product, which is limited to select cloud providers, the Akamai partnership will be cloud provider-agnostic, Cohen said.

"We see an opportunity to solve the hybrid cloud network problem ... by taking Akamai's network and extending it into the corporate data center and behind the firewall so that Akamai intelligence lives in the Steelhead appliance," Cohen said. "We'll be able to accelerate any cloud application, including SaaS, without the customer having to truckroll more [appliances]."

Details of Riverbed and Akamai's plans are still scant, but WAN managers juggling multiple SaaS providers should pay attention, according to Gartner's Skorupa. While the cost of a private WAN link into one SaaS provider's data center may be a cost-effective way to solve performance concerns, that won't scale for organizations working with seven or eight SaaS providers, he said.

Although best known for its vast CDN, Akamai makes most of its money from value-added services, which includes its Web acceleration and intelligent Internet routing technology, Cohen said. Through the partnership, Akamai plans to deploy Riverbed's Steelhead WAN optimization software in its data centers, which support 90,000 servers at the Internet's edge, Cohen said.

Meanwhile, Riverbed will deploy Akamai's Web optimization software onto Steelhead appliances, said Nik Rouda, director of marketing, solutions and verticals at Riverbed. Rouda and Cohen declined to explain how a Steelhead might interact with Akamai's CDN or whether Riverbed customers would have to subscribe to Akamai's CDN services to receive the cloud WAN optimization product.

Cloud Steelhead will continue to support IaaS and Storage as a Service customers as a "purpose-built" virtual appliance, Rouda said.

Blue Coat's new caching support for RTMP is aimed at supporting rich media in SaaS applications such as and Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) suite, according to Mark Urban, senior director of product marketing. The feature is available for all branch appliances and can be used outside of cloud environments.

"Traditionally, caching has been used for saving Internet bandwidth in flows that go between the branch office and the data center," Urban said. "But that same appliance at the branch office can also be pointing directly at the cloud and optimizing and SharePoint Online."

Other cloud WAN optimization vendors look beyond SaaS performance

Although SaaS performance took the spotlight for cloud WAN optimization announcements at Interop 2011, it wasn't vendors' only target.

In addition to its RTMP caching, Blue Coat also announced its Cloud MACH5 Virtual Appliance—a beefed-up version of its virtual WAN optimization software for branch offices. The MACH5 has 45 Mbps of throughput—compared to the virtual ProxySG's 18 Mbps—and is intended to function as the data center-side WAN optimization device for cloud environments in which a WAN manager controls the server environment, Urban said.

Beyond its increased throughput, the MACH5 is in no other way tailored to cloud environments and can be deployed as a virtual appliance in a standard data center, Urban said.

Outside of Interop 2011, other vendors addressed demand for cloud WAN optimization with recent announcements.

Aryaka, which describes its product as a CDN infused with WAN optimization, announced new points of presence (POPs) throughout the globe—New York, Miami, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Paris, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Aryaka customers use Internet or private WAN connections for last-mile connectivity before traffic is routed throughout Aryaka's meshed network of POPs, where its proprietary WAN optimization intercepts and accelerates that traffic.

 Virtual WAN optimization vendor Certeon recently announced aCelera Cloud, which is designed to interconnect private and public clouds and optimize the link between them. 

To learn more about Interop, view our 2011 Interop Las Vegas conference page. 

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

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