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Selecting WAN application visibility solutions

Weigh your options between the various WAN application visibility solutions you need to achieve better WAN management and security.

It wasn't too long ago when network managers had very little in the way of real-time information about what was occurring across their networks. If anything went wrong, a phone call from a remote site or even from a complaining end user was usually the first line of defense. In today's sophisticated WAN environment, network managers have a vast array of solutions that provide strategic and tactical visibility across network infrastructures. And application visibility has quickly emerged as one of the most desirable of network performance management tools.

Make vs. buy: Which WAN application visibility tool is right for you?

If your WAN is currently not optimized, you may be able to use your existing network monitoring devices to construct a bigger picture of overall network performance. Be sure that your network monitors provide all or most of the parameters mentioned in my previous article, explaining how application visibility is achieved through network visibility. Your remote network monitors will probably be sending you performance data the same as your on-site monitors. Thus, your challenge is to decide what additional analysis you wish to gain from the performance data being delivered. 

Depending on the programming and analytical capabilities of your network team, you can probably write programs to analyze the network performance data. And, of course, you can also obtain third-party WAN monitoring software that can easily analyze network performance data from a variety of vendors, including your current network monitoring suppliers.

If your WAN is currently optimized, or if you are planning an optimization initiative, the level of complexity involved in WAN optimization may preclude any opportunities for a home-grown solution. To obtain true visibility of WAN performance across all corners of an optimized network, specialized WAN optimization solutions and network appliances that provide cross-network visibility must be added to each network endpoint. When selecting a product, check to see if the vendor also offers analytical tools to help you analyze the data you will be collecting.

WAN optimization vendors with application visibility

Blue Coat Systems
Cisco Systems
Exinda Networks
Ipanema Technologies
Silver Peak Systems

Selecting the right WAN application visibility solution

If you want to use your WAN optimization solution to obtain network visibility and improve application performance, be sure about migrating to an optimized WAN environment. (If you elect to keep your WAN non-optimized, you can still achieve application visibility across the network with the proper equipment.) When performing your cost justification, try and determine how the newly optimized network will help you control or reduce costs. Ask yourself:

  • Will a WAN optimization solution minimize the need for greater bandwidth and additional channels?
  • Will it minimize the need for additional equipment?
  • Will it improve overall application delivery and customer experience?

Next, ensure that the solution can capture performance data across all parts of the network, including application/Web servers and load-balancing devices. Make sure the appliances you will attach to your network are compatible with the equipment already installed, and that the equipment supports all relevant network protocols. Finally, once WAN performance data has been collected, find out what analytical tools are available to make inferences about the data based on network behavior patterns and other attributes you establish, and see whether those tools can offer solutions for existing and possible problems.

Installing optimization to achieve WAN application visibility

Before you install WAN optimization technology you must measure performance to establish a baseline for your optimization efforts, and continuously measure performance thereafter so you can proactively enhance performance whenever possible and observe the outcome. Determine your objectives for WAN optimization; for example, do you want increased performance? Are you looking for the reduction of network asset footprints? Perhaps you want savings on carrier costs? Investigate vendors of WAN optimization solutions, and see what WAN monitoring metrics they use, how they address application visibility, and determine your organization's current and planned requirements.

In preparing your request for proposal (RFP):

  • Describe your current network infrastructure, i.e., the channels, routers, switches and monitoring equipment.
  • Provide current performance statistics.
  • Provide projected performance requirements based on specific activities, such as adding new applications or a merger/acquisition.
  • Specify the kinds of raw data the devices must provide; i.e., specify a minimum complement of analytical reports to be provided.
  • Ensure that the appliances will not impact network security.
  • Compare warranties, maintenance, installation and testing, customer acceptance procedures, SLAs, and overall support offerings.
This was last published in April 2012

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