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New WAN optimization solutions need application visibility and control

Why are WAN optimization vendors making more than WAN optimization solutions? This analysis of the WAN optimization market explains how and why network application visibility and control are just as important as accelerating technologies.

Choosing the right wide area network (WAN) optimization solution may require some insight into the WAN optimization market – insight given here by Bojan Simic, who explains why WAN optimization solutions need application visibility and control as much as their accelerating bandwidth technology.

New applications, IT initiatives and end-user requests for improving the effectiveness of managing enterprise infrastructure are changing the role that WAN optimization solutions play in the enterprise. Benefits that end-user organizations are looking to achieve from deploying various WAN optimization and accelerating technologies go beyond just mitigating bandwidth upgrades and improving network throughput. WAN optimization solutions are becoming one of the key enablers of top IT initiatives. IT projects such as data center consolidation and desktop and server virtualization improve the flexibility of managing computing resources; but, at the same time, they are moving computing resources further away from the end user, which increases the amount and complexity of data that is being transferred over the WAN. As a result, taking full control of the performance of applications that are being delivered over the WAN is becoming increasingly challenging.

Technologies for accelerating applications over the WAN have been getting a lot of traction in the enterprise. Their effectiveness in improving application response times while mitigating the need for bandwidth upgrades made WAN acceleration one of the hottest IT management markets. These WAN optimization solutions reduce the amount of data being sent over the WAN while optimizing protocols being used for data transfers.

Even though this type of technology allows end-user organizations to experience significant business benefits, many of these organizations are realizing that WAN acceleration alone is just not enough to support their remote users. Also, many of these organizations realize that simply accelerating all of the WAN traffic is not a more strategic approach than just adding more bandwidth. Both of these approaches temporarily solve the problem (even though they do it at different costs), but neither of them puts organizations fully in charge of delivering applications over the WAN.

These organizations are concerned not only about improving network throughput and application response times but, more importantly, about truly managing the delivery of data over the WAN, as opposed to just pushing all the traffic down the pipe faster. Many of them are concerned that WAN acceleration technologies, along with accelerating business-critical data, are also accelerating network traffic that should not be delivered to end users at all (malware, spyware, etc.), as well as applications that are not critical to their business. In order to be able to address this problem, organizations first need capabilities that allow application visibility to see traffic that is running across their networks at a very granular level. They also need capabilities that would allow them to prioritize and control this traffic and manage it based on their business priorities, bandwidth consumption or security, and compliance requirements.

As a result, end-user organizations have become increasingly interested in WAN optimization solutions that provide capabilities that allow them to address three key areas: acceleration, visibility and control. Over the last two years, nearly all major WAN optimization vendors took some actions to address this trend. Technology vendors such as Expand Network, Exinda and Silver Peak have been providing various acceleration, application visibility and bandwidth management capabilities for quite some time. Blue Coat Systems significantly enhanced its capabilities for visibility and control by acquiring Packeteer. Riverbed acquired Mazu Networks and added visibility capabilities of Mazu's Network Behavior Analysis (NBA) to its product portfolio. Cisco has been offering acceleration and QoS capabilities through its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) solution and has been providing visibility capabilities mostly through partnering with leading network monitoring vendors. On the other side, companies such as Ipanema Technologies that were known for their visibility and Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities have added acceleration capabilities to their portfolio.

Network and application visibility doesn't mean just being able to monitor performance but to turn this performance data into information that is truly actionable.

Bojan Simic

Even though the capabilities that some of these vendors are providing vary significantly, what they all have in common is that they recognize the need to enhance their product portfolios and ensure that their customers can truly manage applications that are being delivered over the WAN.

The ability to monitor WAN traffic is becoming increasingly important for end-user organizations, but it should also be noted that there are different types of network visibility. Some network visibility tools are limited to monitoring bandwidth consumption per protocol, while others allow more granular discovery of network traffic and can monitor the performance of each application running on the network. More importantly, network and application visibility doesn't mean just being able to monitor performance but to turn this performance data into information that is truly actionable. An organization's improved ability to collect more performance data doesn't necessarily translate to improvements in application performance. Even though the majority of WAN optimization vendors have some visibility capabilities as a part of their product offerings, some of these capabilities are very different and range from simply monitoring bandwidth consumption per application or network location to having a very granular view of data that is being delivered over the WAN.

WAN optimization solutions have been around for a while, and this market has matured to the point where it is no longer being defined by individual techniques such as compression, caching, TCP acceleration or QoS. In order to effectively play its role as one of the key enablers of major IT projects, WAN optimization is moving from a technology that is a mix of capabilities for simply reducing and accelerating network traffic to an integrated technology approach that allows organizations to truly manage application performance over the WAN.

Learn in this companion tip which vendors give enterprises WAN traffic visibility.

This was last published in February 2010

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