Vendors tackle file-sharing WAN optimisation

F5 gets into a growth market - WAN optimisation

F5 Networks plans to upgrade its WAN optimisation appliance, moving into a hot market to offer file-sharing acceleration for Common Internet File Systems (CIFS).

Seattle-based F5’s decision to include CIFS acceleration means that latency in transferring Windows-based files globally could be vastly reduced, tripling or quadrupling transfer speeds, says Ameet Dhillon, F5’s director of product management.

In addition to CIFS acceleration, the forthcoming WANJet 4.0 appliance will offer about double the scalability of earlier WANJet versions, along with improved reporting capabilities and user interface integration with other F5 products, Dhillon says.

Analysts say the F5 appliance will join a growing set of products that can be used to replace file servers in branch offices around the globe, helping companies that are now looking for ways to back up growing amounts of data for regulatory compliance purposes.

Will Lee, director of operations at Navio Systems, a digital-rights management vendor in California, has been beta-testing the 4.0 version and will deploy the software on two appliances in the next 45 days to support global operations in Europe and Asia, he says. The WANJet 4.0 appliances may also be used to replace conventional file servers at various global locations.

Navio has been an F5 customer for three years and currently uses the WANJet 3.0 for large data backups in the San Franciso area across a dedicated T1 line. When the 3.0 appliance was rolled out, backup times were reduced from three days to five hours, Lee says. Adding CIFS acceleration is expected to improve speed on global connections.

“By going from three days down to five hours to transfer a 40GB data set, we didn’t have to increase network capacity,” Lee says. Navio actually saved money by not buying extra WAN links, since the WANJet appliance cost US$20,000 and paid for itself in six months, he says.

Two analysts say WANJet 4.0 works by recognising a CIFS file and drastically reducing the number of transactions needed to make a transfer. “CIFS is an incredibly chatty protocol,” says Joe Skorupa, an analyst at Gartner.

Skorupa and Joe Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis, say there can be hundreds of back-and-forth transactions across a network in CIFS, which may only take 1 millisecond each in a LAN but could take 200 milliseconds over a WAN.

The need to comply with new federal regulations and back up data globally is helping drive the need for WAN optimisation products, both analysts say. Skorupa says that after the internet bubble burst in 2000, remote systems administrators were transferred or laid off and backup operations were centralised or not done at all until regulations forced them to resume.

“You basically had no reliable backup for five years, until Sarbanes-Oxley came along,” Skorupa says. “The office manager has taken the backup tapes home and put them on the mantle.”

The WANJet 4.0 release represents the first time F5 has fully incorporated technology from Swan Labs, which F5 acquired last September, Dhillon says.

Skorupa and Conover say WAN acceleration products reduce the amount of bandwidth needed over WAN links and the amount of time required to do backup. IT managers can realise a quick return on investment using such products, which range from US$3,000 to US$50,000 per appliance, depending on throughput and the number of connections, Skorupa says. Other vendors have released CIFS acceleration products, but only recently, Conover says.

Riverbed Technology in San Francisco has the leading CIFS acceleration appliance already on the market, both analysts say. Other competitors include Juniper Networks, Orbital Data and Cisco Systems.

“This is a strong entry from F5, and it’s a hot market, so other companies will move into this space,” Skorupa says. F5 benefits from having a lot of clients already using its other technology, such as application acceleration, load balancing and compression, Conover says.

The global market size for WAN acceleration products, including traditional caching and related products, was more than US$600 million in 2005 and Skorupa predicts some major companies will completely eliminate file servers in branch offices, ripping out thousands in some cases and replacing them with thousands of products similar to WANJet. “There will be very large implementations,” he says.

Skorupa says IT managers need to spend as much time as possible evaluating management functions in WAN acceleration products, taking time to figure out what is involved in an installation. “Once [they’re] in the network, you’ll be completely dependent on them,” he says. If a WANJet goes down, it is designed to still pass through data, but the data will pass through at the much slower pre-installation rate, he says.

“If it fails, you need to know what are the implications to the business processes,” Skorupa says. “So even if the network is not down, it might be effectively down [without the acceleration technology].”

F5 expects the appliance to ship with prices starting at US$1,795 per unit. Two appliances are required at either end of most network links. The WANJet 200 for branch offices will support up to 2,000 concurrent connections, and the datacentre version, WANJet 400 will support up to 10,000 concurrent connections. Maximum throughput on the 400 is 622Mbit/sec.

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