WAN Optimization: Tactical or Strategic?
(Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by our newest EMA Senior Analyst, Tracy Corbo)
EMA has been following the WAN optimization sector for some time. Back in 2008, EMA’s Network Management Megatrends research determined that depending on which IT teams you asked, their view towards WAN optimization was divergent. While those who identified themselves as members of the IT architecture group mostly saw WAN optimization as tactical, most of those who were part of the networking team saw the solutions as being more strategic.
In our recent study, EMA Radar for WAN Optimization Controllers: Q1 2011, we learned a number of interesting things. First, we found an increasingly diverse range of implementation approaches being used. WAN Optimization Controllers (WOCs) have been, traditionally, the most common approach for WAN optimization, and are most often deployed as hardware appliances. However, other form factors such as software clients, integration with network equipment such as branch routers, and virtual appliances are becoming increasingly popular. Server virtualization technologies, especially, have created new opportunities for this technology for where and how it is deployed.
Conversations with customers implementing WAN optimization solutions helped us better understand the challenges that IT departments are facing. For example, the growing number of mobile devices that can be used for real world work purposes is growing and adding new challenges to application deployment for IT departments. In some cases a particular workforce is highly mobile and will never have access to high bandwidth solutions, so WAN optimization must adapt to play a role in providing efficient access to applications that would otherwise not be accessible. Other internal projects, such as application centralization, can create unforeseen problems when applications not designed for WAN deployment become sluggish and unresponsive across WAN links. In many cases, WAN optimization is deployed tactically to solve a pain point, but overtime it quickly becomes part of a general strategic initiative in solving latency issues over WAN links.
While EMA’s Radar Report was primarily structured to compare traditional approaches towards WAN optimization such as those offered by Riverbed, Blue Coat, Silver Peak, Expand, and Certeon, the analysis also covers solutions from other vendors who are not pure-play appliance providers, such as Cisco, Citrix, and Juniper. The report also included a number of vendors who have non-traditional deployment models or target a very specific problem set (i.e. mobility, real-time streaming traffic, and high volume data/file transfers) including those offered by Replify, Ipanema, Streamcore, NetEx, and Xtera. Ultimately, every one of these vendors (as well as another 15 invitees who chose not to participate) publicly promotes WAN Optimization solutions for the enterprise, and the report is intended to deliver insights to help IT organizations navigate the fog of marketing, and recognize which solutions are most likely to meet their (the IT org, that is) own specific needs.
The decoupling of WAN optimization from fixed hardware platforms means that it can be deployed in new ways and as we learned in the survey some vendors offer asymmetric deployment options that require no hardware or software on remote devices. This survey taught us that there is clearly more than one way to approach WAN optimization and that there is no one size fits all approach. The market is evolving and the vendors are moving with it. In the short time since we finished our data collection for this survey, a number of vendors have made announcements that expand and add new functionality to their solutions. This market is very much relevant and shows no signs of slowing down in the coming months and years.
Internet-based computing has become the cornerstone of doing business day. Companies and their employees are dependent on the network to do their job. Application performance is no longer nice to have, but a necessity regardless of how and where employees access these applications. Consequently, this makes overall application optimization a critical factor in business success and WAN optimization in turn has become both increasingly pervasive as well as more central to network infrastructure planning. Business applications are still evolving away from fat client designs. But as history has shown us companies are not going to dump their investment in existing infrastructure, but rather find ways to make it fit into changing environments. WAN optimization has a role to play both as a tactical and strategic solution in application delivery, and EMA will continue to track its role and evolution.