WAN optimization is one of the cornerstones of application delivery optimization (ADO). WAN optimizers boost application performance over wide area networks through techniques such as application acceleration and data compression. In my previous article, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of hardware vs. software WAN optimizers. Here, we'll discuss the pros and cons of mobile optimization clients and cloud optimization services.
Pros and cons of mobile optimization
When the office location has shrunk to "the branch of one" (as with a mobile employee) or the microbranch (of up to 10 people), it may not make sense -- from a cost perspective -- to deploy additional hardware to improve performance for network applications. These small, often transient locations that would benefit from virtual appliances typically don't have a host server onto which they can be deployed.
However, just because it is expensive doesn't mean there isn't a need. Enter mobile optimization clients. These programs run on a user's computer or other device, perhaps a tablet, and speak to an appliance elsewhere in the WAN, usually the data center, to compress and accelerate tasks an appliance usually would.
More on cloud and mobile optimization
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Mobile WAN optimization is not for everyone
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The advantages of a mobile optimization client bring users significant performance improvements, especially via the compression of data. The disadvantage is that the mobile client cannot improve performance as dramatically as an appliance in a large shared context because it does not have access to as many streams of data nor does it have the ability to optimize across them. For example, in a branch with an appliance, if your neighbor downloads the latest statement of work for a consulting project at 9:00 a.m, when you download the same file at 9:15, chances are you will get the cached content off the optimizing appliance at nearly no impact on the WAN and with lightning fast response times. In a client-based branch (perhaps consisting only of you and your neighbor), neither of you benefit from what the other has done.
Also, any work the client does necessarily takes processing power away from other work on the machine. Most users have capacity to spare, pretty much all the time, but not everyone and not always; staff with extremely processor-intensive workloads, such as large data set analytics, should be cautious in adopting client-side solutions.
The pros and cons of cloud optimization services
Just recently, it has become possible to optimize WANs without hardware, software or even mobile optimization clients. Sites (down to single-user sites) can establish SSL or IPsec connections to cloud optimization providers, and the cloud provider will take care of accelerating application traffic for you. These providers operate extremely high-bandwidth networks among their own points of presence, generally in a mesh and using optimizing routing algorithms, and site those points to be as close as possible to as many customers as possible to limit the latency from that first-mile link.
Cloud optimization does not help in limiting the amount of bandwidth you need to buy to the carrier because it does nothing to reduce the volume of traffic leaving your premises (or arriving there), since there is no compression or caching on your side of the connection. That happens only within the carrier cloud. However, mobile optimization can greatly improve the performance of applications with WAN-unfriendly behaviors such as chattiness (where there is lots of back and forth in data transactions) and intolerance for packet loss -- and all without the capital expense or the operational expense or complexity of a layer of appliances. Moreover, through caching within the provider infrastructure, such services can hugely reduce transfer times; the content, once cached, has only to traverse the last mile on either end and can then effectively skip the rest of the Internet.
With respect to bandwidth, such services can't reduce the amount of connectivity a branch needs, but they can mitigate that lack of compression by empowering a shift from expensive private WAN bandwidth to relatively inexpensive Internet bandwidth.
Choosing between cloud optimization and mobile optimization
When appliances are not the answer, or at least not a palatable one, IT should be exploring mobile client-based and cloud-based options. In single-person situations, a soft client is a very good thing to explore. IT does need to manage those mobile clients to make sure the solution is not worse than the problem. Centralized management is a necessity, preferably without adding either additional hardware to terminate the connections on the data center end or additional software to manage the clients.
When IT needs to improve performance for a branch, it should definitely explore cloud-based services. If they can meet acceleration needs, and otherwise satisfy risk management folks that they are safe to use, the services may provide easily scalable solutions for myriad small branches without putting a pinch on the capital budget.