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In the first part of this series on the changing network performance requirements that enable the increasingly virtual enterprise, we assess the business and technology issues driving the adoption of application delivery optimization solutions to ensure remote and mobile workers have secure and efficient access to the applications and data they need.
The virtual enterprise: challenges for deploying the new WAN
Through changes in business practices and technology, organizations of all sorts are evolving and reinventing themselves in new forms. Technology is steadily eroding the need for staff to be together in a specific place to work and collaborate, which is breaking the close coupling of place and work. Work is fast becoming something you do, not a physical place where everyone goes to get things done. In the data center and on the desktop, breaking the close link between specific physical assets and the actual work is now accomplished through a process of virtualization.
In support of this transformation, the virtual enterprise employs myriad new applications that often need increased bandwidth due to the real-time delivery requirements needed to support new modes of collaboration and communication among co-workers, partners and customers. End users are quickly embracing tools like softphones and desktop video conferencing to help them stay better connected. As IT pushes out desktop virtualization to securely provide access equivalent to that of a company desktop, desktop access looks more like other centralized IT services that are provisioned out of the data center and managed to data center levels of security, availability and continuity.
While users are eager to adopt the latest virtual communications applications, performance problems are highly visible to them (there's nothing more visible than glitches in rolling video). But the network performance requirements of these tools are significantly different than those of older client-server applications, Web browsing or file sharing. As a result, many network managers are having trouble providing end users the level of performance required to make the applications usable.
Application delivery optimization: Response time is the key
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Business service management to optimize application performance
Network application performance monitoring: Visibility issues
Integrating performance management and ADCs
At the same time, organizations continue to consolidate their data centers. In addition to moving as many IT services as possible out of branches and into actual data centers, most organizations with more than a handful of data centers are pushing to consolidate down to a few. This pushes more traffic onto WAN connections from the branch to data center, or even among data centers. To make these changes work, IT has to do what it can to make the most of network capacity.
The dynamics of this new virtual enterprise environment make performance management a real challenge, even on links that allegedly have plenty of bandwidth. Badly behaved links -- those exhibiting excessive latency, jitter or packet loss -- can be crippling to applications like desktop video conferencing or virtual desktop access, which need a well-behaved link for acceptable performance. Poorly designed protocols, especially chatty ones -- those requiring lots of back and forth between client and server -- will suffer disproportionately when used across a high-latency link, or one prone to a high degree of packet loss.
It's to IT to address these problems in order to improve application performance and guarantee the response time of applications delivered over the WAN. Some techniques help Internet-hosted applications as well, but for users in about half of all companies, Internet applications go from Internet to data center (where the Internet connection is located), then across the WAN to the end user, so WAN performance is integral to their performance too.
Application response time is the key, according to senior architect at a large energy company Nemertes Research recently interviewed. Likewise, IT also needs to be aware of application performance for users consuming IT services via mobile networks and the Internet.
Organizations don't just need capacity and conditioning. Control is necessary to ensure capacity is going first to applications with the highest priority. But to do that, IT also must be able to prioritize and see traffic on the network with high granularity, especially for Web audio/video traffic, given that use of bandwidth-intensive social media and recreational sites is still on the rise. A video conference can't suffer because of a new "Charlie Bit Me" mix on YouTube. Similarly, access to critical Software as a Service (SaaS) applications must take priority over basic Web browsing or even over less-critical SaaS services.
Read more from this series
Application delivery optimization strategies for a changing workforce
Security is the other side of the control coin. New technologies and tools introduce new security hazards, everything from VoIP eavesdropping to poisoned one-time URLs passed along in IM messages or via Facebook. Steps taken to improve performance must not hurt security, at the very least; at best, they should improve it, just as security measures like blocking malware can improve application performance by reducing the volume of traffic being optimized.
Application delivery optimization offers a variety of fixes
In response to work-place changes, IT has to reshape networks to make them more intelligent and more active in ensuring appropriate application access and performance. Application Delivery Optimization (ADO) is the constellation of tools that IT can use to address application performance issues. The term ADO encompasses application delivery controllers (ADC), WAN optimizers, application accelerators, WAN aggregator and application delivery networking (ADN). It also includes many techniques for optimizing delivery, including caching and compression, application acceleration, traffic shaping, loss mitigation, latency mitigation, server offload, local and global server load balancing, link aggregation and route optimization. ADO should provide IT with deep visibility into network traffic, preferably in real time, and include flexible portal and reporting features to make information about network performance useful to as many people as possible. The main focus here is on WAN optimizers, in terms of the compression, traffic shaping, acceleration and conditioning they do.
About the author
John Burke is a principal research analyst with Nemertes Research, where he advises key enterprise and vendor clients, conducts and analyzes primary research, and writes thought-leadership pieces across a wide variety of topics. John leads research on virtual enterprise, focusing primarily on the virtual and mobile desktop, Application Delivery Optimization (ADO), and management and orchestration tools for the virtualized data center and the cloud. He also covers the security aspects of all of these topics, as well as server and storage virtualization, network and application performance management and monitoring, branch office IT and SOA.