WAN optimisation making inroads into networks

Devices that improve data flow within organisations are catching on

WAN optimisation technology is a sure way to save money. For instance, US custom machinery manufacturer Curt G Joa avoided the cost of adding a server to its German office by installing WAN acceleration gear from Silver Peak.

Joa engineers in Germany needed to access engineering applications, but the applications performed so slowly over the WAN that it could take an hour just to open a Novell directory.

The initial plan was to install a server in the German office for US$100,000 (NZ$144,000) including time, hardware and licences. Instead, the company spent US$17,000 on a Silver Peak NX appliance that solved the problem by speeding application performance over the WAN.

In another example, Riverbed gear that cost US$20,000 reduced the need for bandwidth between a Millard Lumber site in Omaha, Nebraska, and a second site in the state, from three T-1s to one, saving US$3,000 per month. That’s a payoff within seven months.

In addition, WAN optimisation devices improve transaction times between sites by as much as 90% or more, reducing user frustration and in some cases making it possible for applications to perform at all over long distances.

Despite their impressive results, these devices are often overlooked, mainly because potential users worry they might remove chunks of data, block visibility of traffic through firewalls, or fail and stall out networks altogether, says Eric Siegel, an analyst with the Burton Group.

These concerns are groundless, Siegel says. “They should do it now. You can really save money on these things. And there are soft benefits like happier customers and more cooperation,” he says.

In the grand scheme of things, a paltry amount of WAN optimisation gear has been sold, says Mattias Machowinski, an analyst with Infonetics. This year, vendors will sell about US$300 million worth worldwide.

Even so, the optimisation gear is catching on. Sales this year have increased 27% compared with last year, and Machowinski projects double-digit increases in each of the next three years.

These devices help save money in two ways. First, they reduce the need for WAN bandwidth, which translates into buying smaller WAN pipes or staving off the need to add more.

Second, they enable businesses to consolidate servers in datacentres, saving money by reducing the number of servers in corporate networks that need to be purchased, installed, maintained and repaired.

Optimisation appliances use a variety of means — compression, caching, boosting TCP efficiency, protocol optimisation, imposing QoS — to reduce the amount of traffic that crosses WAN circuits, compress the traffic that is sent and make sure it does so efficiently to avoid congestion.

Vendors such as Cisco, Citrix, F5 Networks, Juniper, Packeteer, Riverbed and others use varying blends of WAN-optimising technology, so one vendor’s gear might do a better job on a particular traffic mix than another’s. The single most important thing customers can do is test gear made by more than one vendor on live networks.

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