Over the past decade, virtualization has changed the entire face of the data center. Meanwhile, the network edge has become predominantly wireless, consumer mobile devices reign supreme and the lines are blurring between internal and external networks. However, what has not changed is how companies are architecting their corporate WANs to accommodate these technologies. Managing WAN performance is something network managers have always struggled with since WAN speeds are typically an order of magnitude lower than local area networks (LANs). If companies are truly going to move forward and start leveraging the network, then the way companies view their WAN and their WAN optimization must change as well.
There are several forces driving the evolution of the WAN and the need for next-generation WAN optimization:
- Enterprise video. This includes both recorded video and real-time video. Historically, I’ve been a bit of a video skeptic and have referred to it as a "solution looking for a problem." And while that might have been the case in the past, it's not true anymore. Video is getting easier and cheaper to use than almost any technology I have seen in the past decade. It also consumes bandwidth like no other application. Whether or not you're ready, video is coming to the enterprise (if it's not already there) and the WAN needs to be able to accommodate it.
- Cloud computing. Everyone is talking about the cloud and it's only a matter of time before it's more so the norm than the exception. The cloud extends the corporate WAN beyond the corporate walls, turning the cloud service into an extension of the company. However, this doesn't mean the IT department is off the hook for the performance of cloud-based applications. When users experience performance problems, they will turn to the IT department to solve these issues. Additionally, cloud services are also more efficiently served through direct access via a split-tunnel model, versus the traditional hub-and-spoke model.
- Mobility. It's hard to find any organization where mobility isn't one of the top two or three priorities of the IT department. Mobility also extends the WAN past its historical demarcation point as users want to access corporate information from anywhere.
- Desktop virtualization and VDI. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is gaining traction and is an excellent way of delivering applications to consumer devices without putting the data at risk. VDI is operating-system agnostic and can be used on almost any type of device. However, WAN performance is critical in ensuring that the VDI experience is comparable to traditional desktops. If it's not, users will grow frustrated and the deployment will be deemed a failure.
More on next-generation WANs
Slideshow: WAN trends for 2012
Why you must upgrade your network: Network evolution roadmap.
Virtualization and the cloud force a network evolution.
How these IT trends drive next-generation WAN optimization
The evolution of the WAN means WAN optimization needs to evolve. To date, WAN optimization has been a tactical technology, mainly acceleration, used to speed up the performance of a handful of non-real-time applications -- such as e-mail and Windows file services -- over private WANs. As stated earlier, the private WAN is becoming a thing of the past as corporate networks are extending well past the firewall. Additionally, the variety of application types has evolved. Multiple application types require more than just one acceleration technology and drive the need for a broader array of WAN optimization techniques.
From a high-level perspective, the term "WAN optimization" means anything that sits at the WAN edge and optimizes network performance. The evolution of WAN optimization actually moves us closer to this definition than "acceleration technology" has. However, the technologies that make this up are quite varied and are used for different applications.
Next-generation WAN optimization needs to include:
- network visibility tools that show what's running on the network;
- security functionality to secure traffic over the networks; and
- technologies that improve the performance of all applications, including video, static content, cloud applications, Web applications and other non-real-time or real-time applications.
This will move WAN optimization from being a tactical technology used to solve a few application performance problems to a strategic technology that will solve the majority of today’s application performance problems and stay in step with the demands of a next-generation WAN.