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Ins and outs of WAN optimization services and solutions: In-sourcing vs. outsourcing

Even in this tough economy, companies have a number of choices when it comes to addressing application and network performance. They can go the do-it-yourself route and monitor and manage the network internally, using a mix of optimization appliances and specific application monitoring tools. Or they may choose to outsource some or all of those functions to a third-party provider.

Part 3 of a three-part series

Effective global collaboration is vital to the success of a distributed enterprise. Organizations increasingly view applications such as Web, audio and video conferencing, messaging, and document collaboration as critical components of an effective collaboration strategy.

It is therefore crucial that IT deliver services to optimize the performance, management and delivery of these business-critical collaborative applications. This means taking a close look at current and future WAN optimization systems and plans.

A number of choices exist when it comes to addressing application and network performance. Organizations may choose to monitor and manage the network internally, using a mix of optimization appliances and specific application monitoring tools. Or they may choose to outsource some or all of those functions to a third-party provider.

The decision often comes down to budgets and bodies. Does the organization have the budget to invest in on-premise technology and trained staff to effectively monitor and manage the network? Risk is another factor that must be taken into consideration: Does the organization require the greater control offered by an in-house solution, as opposed to having someone else run the show for a set fee?

Nearly three-quarters of the organizations Nemertes works with have deployed some form of WAN optimization. Overwhelmingly (more than 90%), organizations say that deploying WAN optimization fixed the problems they were trying to resolve. Over time, however, many companies also find that while the chosen solution might effectively solve the problems it was brought in to address, it may not do as well with problems arising out of new application deployments or other infrastructure changes. Video and voice, for example, top the list of applications incumbent deployments are not addressing well.

The time is now for WAN evaluation

WAN checklist:

  • Evaluate new application requirements and performance to gauge the suitability of current WAN and optimization.
  • Be prepared to upgrade, replace or supplement current solutions for new use cases or traffic types.
  • Expect an increase in real-time and fault-intolerant traffic, if not an increase in bandwidth.
  • Optimize for the shift in traffic flows as a result of IT centralization and data center consolidation.
  • Plan on providing optimization to progressively more numerous and smaller user endpoints (mini-branches and teleworkers).
  • Carefully weigh premise solutions vs. outsourced solutions.
  • This situation, and in some cases dissatisfaction, leads many organizations to think about new vendors, technologies and options for WAN optimization deployment. In addition to reviewing current vendors and their in-house, appliance-based optimization solutions, organizations are contemplating new deployment architectures and approaches. Primarily, they're looking at integrating optimization with other IT or network functions and at using a managed optimization solution.

    A solid majority (67%) of organizations prefers a solution that integrates optimization into other network gear, such as routers or security appliances. The benefit, of course, is fewer devices and fewer vendors to support. By simplifying the network equipment stack, IT hopes to reduce the cost and complexity of deployment.

    Carrier pigeonholed for WAN optimization success

    There is also growing interest in WAN optimization as a service integrated with network connectivity. About 43% of organizations polled would prefer a carrier-based managed optimization solution, presuming equal or lower costs and equivalent performance. This is notable, given that such options barely existed 18 months ago. Fewer than 5% of organizations use such solutions today.

    Carrier/cloud optimization employs the same technologies as an enterprise might deploy in-house (compression, protocol acceleration, and so on). Volume-reducing functions such as compression have to happen in customer-premises equipment (CPE) managed by the carrier, since the point of reducing volume is to minimize bandwidth to the carrier. Behavior-based functions such as protocol accelerations or packet-loss mitigation can take place in the carrier's internal network.

    The carrier can install optimization gear for traffic shaping or protocol acceleration (wherever it makes the most sense in its network), avoiding the complexity and cost of CPE, which can be attractive for organizations with lots of small branches.

    A managed solution can have lower start-up costs and is typically quicker to get up and running, making it an attractive choice in recessionary times and when needs shift or arise unexpectedly. It also offers some flexibility with respect to vendor selection, allowing the organization to mix vendors more easily across its WAN or switch vendors after an initial deployment.

    Managed optimization services also allow the overlay of new solutions on top of or alongside existing in-house deployments, making them a reasonable way to supplement rather than replace existing in-house solutions.

    Trust and control MSP issues

    There are some drawbacks, however. As with most managed services, IT practitioners are concerned with the lack of control and the trust they must place in a provider's security. There is also the issue of a provider's geographical reach. In response, many carriers are rapidly expanding their coverage area or partnering with another provider to do so. Although that sounds positive, with expansion of services often comes renegotiation. Which brings us to another issue: Cost.

    With outsourced services, organizations are sometimes surprised by unexpected or hidden charges. For instance, with most on-premise optimization solutions, extending services to teleworkers simply involves installing a free client. With a carrier-managed solution, services for teleworkers may not be free but would be something that has to be negotiated. Companies find much higher levels of success with outsourcing when they take time upfront to craft a properly structured service-level agreement (SLA) as well as a properly structured contract.

    About the author: Katherine Trost is a research analyst with Nemertes Research. She has expertise in hosted, managed and professional IT services, as well as channel strategies.

    Read Part 1 in the series, Centralization, smaller budgets drive demand for managed WAN services

    Read Part 2 in the series, Selecting a WAN service provider: Keep an eye on SLAs

    This was last published in October 2009

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