Optimization techniques for wide-area networks (WANs) can improve most organizations' application response times, particularly where network latency is high, which is often due to centralization of servers and IT resources. Typically, WAN optimization controllers (WOCs) serve to prevent network latency having a severe impact on the performance of applications and underlying protocols. Through data reduction and prioritization techniques, WOCs can also help organizations avoid costly bandwidth upgrades.
WAN optimization is about improving the performance of business applications over WAN connections. Most networks carry a variety of traffic types of differing characteristics and importance. Many organizations are striving to manage this traffic to optimize the response times of critical applications and reduce costs, given that bandwidth continues to represent a significant proportion of operating expenditure for wide-area data networks. But the cost of bandwidth isn't the only consideration — matching the allocation of WAN resources to business needs is also
important. And as resources are increasingly centralized, minimizing the effect of latency on application response times is becoming a critical requirement. In addition, virtualization and new application environments such as cloud computing and Web services can put an unexpected strain on the network.
WAN optimization controllers (WOCs) are deployed symmetrically — in data centers and remote locations — and improve the performance of applications that are accessed across a WAN. The WOCs are typically connected to the LAN side of WAN routers, or are software integrated with client devices. They address application performance problems caused by bandwidth constraints and latency or protocol limitations. The primary function of WOCs is to improve the response times of business-critical applications over WAN links, but they can also help to maximize return on investment in WAN bandwidth, and sometimes avoid the need for costly bandwidth upgrades. To achieve these objectives, WOCs use a combination of techniques, including:
The WAN optimization controller market is maturing, but it still sees a high level of innovation around cloud, video, multipoint quality of service, and security.
Before purchasing, ensure the vendors being considered offer the product capabilities and support required by your application mix.
Mobility requires accelerating access to network assets and applications. WAN optimization solutions aid users connecting to the network and accessing information, regardless of the access network from which they originate.
Top Benefits of Mobile WAN Optimization
1) Consistent performance for all applications. WAN optimization not only improves end-to-end application performance, but it also irons out performance wrinkles - providing a consistent end user experience regardless of location. Mobile WAN optimization can also provide a cost-effective way of accelerating apps where a software agent is more feasible than a hardware appliance on the remote end.
2) Room for deploying new business applications. For many companies, the mobile WAN is simply too latent or too congested to support innovative new line-of-business apps. However, WAN optimization provides the means for decreasing overall WAN utilization and freeing up considerable bandwidth. The result? IT can take confidence in changing the application portfolio and add apps that drive user productivity, business process improvement, and customer satisfaction.
3) Improved availability and disaster preparedness. WAN optimization solutions are also critical in providing the data acceleration needed for backup and replication software. We’ve already seen companies achieve tenfold improvement in backup software running across the WAN to branch offices. But with the addition of a mobile WAN optimization agent, this same benefit can be extrapolated to any remote user. This ensures workforce continuity and decreases end user downtime while they’re brought back to a productive state, should something go awry.
Selecting a Mobile WAN Optimization Solution
The best WAN optimization solution for your unique organization should take into account more than simply the application or applications that the solution may initially be adopted to accelerate. WAN optimization, when properly applied, will work to improve the experience of users on the network, ensuring peak performance from any location, on any access network, as well as the performance of specific applications those users are attempting to access.
Understand and have a plan for how the technology will scale. Be sure to select a WAN optimization solution that both scales up and scales out. Scale-up means technology that supports more applications over time and an increasing amount of data. The tricky one is scale-out, though, which means supporting an increasing swath of users, not simply the “road warriors” that make up a small percentage of users in most organizations.
This means selecting a vendor that understands the software agent and has thought through how that agent can be easily deployed and supported on a large number of remote laptops and desktops. It also means selecting a vendor that understands both branch offices and mobile workforces so that you can scale out with your users and provide a consistent experience across all remote activity.
Evaluating solutions for WAN optimization should take into account more than the optimization of network traffic. Evaluate a solution with respect to the underlying appliance architecture. Pick a vendor that supports clustering and redundancy to ensure maximum reliability. WAN optimization will become a critical part of your mobile architecture, and potential failure may cause your traffic load to extend beyond your network’s capacity. Also, pick an appliance that fits into existing security architectures to ensure that SSL-encrypted traffic can still be accelerated for your mobile apps.
No two WANs are alike. Working with a vendor that has experience in solving the specific issues of your organization will ensure that late-term support and performance issues do not arise. This is even more true with mobile WANs. Make sure the vendor has plenty of references in your industry that can attest to support. Otherwise, you may get stuck with a networking vendor that doesn’t truly understand how to support a software agent or specific acceleration tricks that need to be applied to the nuances of a mobile environment.
WAN Optimization Controllers Magic Quadrant 2011
We suggest the following vendor selection criteria:
• A significant focus on WAN optimization and adjacent business: Many vendors offer a WAN optimization more as a
“check box” than as a compelling product. Focus on vendors for whom WAN optimization is a core competency.
• Consistent approach to WAN optimization for both mobile software and appliance solutions: Some vendors
approach WAN optimization differently between their mobile clients and branch appliances. It is important to have a solution where the features are the same across products to ensure a similar user experience. Additionally, the mobile WAN optimization client should terminate into the same data center appliance as the branch office solution.
• Performance of the solution: This can be difficult to quantify but we recommend that the solution be tried with a wide variety of users before purchased. Most solutions may work with a limited number of users but the solution will need to scale to possibly thousands of mobile workers.
• Best-of-breed technology: Evaluate the solution on the underlying architecture of the product and ensure it’s designed for scalability, simplicity and has the broadest ranch of protocols supported.
• Security support: Choose a vendor that can integrate into your existing security strategy to ensure that even SSL encrypted traffic can be optimized for mobile workers.
• Reference accounts: Challenge the vendor to provide a number of reference accounts that can be visited to ensure the product works as advertised.