Most companies have scaled down spending on IT and network improvements over the past year, primarily because of the weak economy, although the pace of network activity and demands on the network show no signs of a slowdown.
In fact, WAN traffic at most companies – including FTP file transfers -- has increased an average 65% over the past year or so, according to a study from Aberdeen Research – especially in terms of delivery applications and data to remote users.
One of the top challenges for these companies is transferring large files between network locations, the research company noted in a report released earlier this year. Since adding more bandwidth is not now a viable option because of the expense and unreliable ROI (47% of the companies that increased their bandwidth over the past two years reported no improvement in applications performance, Aberdeen said), many companies are looking at ways to just speed up the transfer of files from one point to another.
For these companies, FTP or file acceleration alternatives not only solve an immediate problem, they may also answer most of the current needs when it comes to network congestion and traffic, according to industry experts. However, applying such fixes may not actually solve the underlying problems and may even complicate things by skirting the entire picture.
"FTP acceleration can help, but you really don't know what's going on, and it may not be that FTP traffic is low, but there is a peer-to-peer problem," noted Ed Ryan, vice president of products for Exinda Networks, a maker of WAN optimization and application acceleration products. More effective and complete acceleration comes from deep packet inspection of TCP activities at the applications layer, as well as a healthy dollop of heuristic and behavior analysis. The result, Ryan said, is an accurate classification of which applications are using what bandwidth.
Looking for more in optimization
The overall objectives in optimization and acceleration also have a lot to do with the types of solutions deployed over a wide area network. When the Providence Engineering and Environmental Group went looking for an optimization solution to link its headquarters in Louisiana and sister site in Texas, the company immediately ruled out basic FTP acceleration, network manager Wesley Corie said, because the goal was disaster recovery and failover.
"We weren't looking at acceleration as much as data redundancy and maximizing access to applications, so FTP acceleration wasn't the answer," Corie explained. The company decided on a more complete optimization solution from Ecessa Corp. and is now looking into supplementing that with an optimization platform from another vendor.
Not all FTP acceleration solutions are alike, however. There are some, in the so-called next generation class, which analyze file attributes, transfer distance and network conditions to quickly adapt file transfers and more fully utilize existing network infrastructures. One of these, available from Aspera Inc., employs the company's patented fast transfer technology (called fasp) and provides a visual dashboard to view file transfers and bandwidth utilization and to control transfer speeds and assign priorities on-the-fly, explained Francois Quereuil, director of marketing at Aspera.
"It's definitely not just a speed issue. You have to add visibility and auditing capabilities to support the movement of files rather than applications," he stated, pointing out that the technology is designed to handle very large files like those common to healthcare, life sciences, government and the entertainment industry.
Still, purveyors of WAN optimization solutions tend to dismiss basic FTP acceleration as a band-aid approach that is fast losing its cachet – especially as more hybrid FTP solutions evolve and the cost of optimization plummets.
"There are a lot of small companies that can make FTP transfers or make TCP run faster," Silver Peak Systems president and CEO Rick Tinsley pointed out. "But the industry has been through enough experiments, with either applications-specific accelerators or protocol-specific accelerators, that haven't really stood the test of time."