Product competition heats up
As the WAN optimization market has matured over the last four years, vendors have been competing on features such as advanced compression techniques and traffic management, including load balancing and protocol-specific optimization for Web-based applications. Blue Coat Systems Inc., with a proxy-based architecture, sells itself as the company that combines security and acceleration--keeping out the bad and speeding up the good.

Riverbed boasts the ability to decrypt Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)-encrypted traffic, and Forrester ranked it highest overall last year for optimization techniques. Silver Peak, which received high marks for its scalability in Forrester's Q3 2007 market report, is making that a cornerstone of its product pitch, and company executives say their roadmap includes larger appliances and the ability to handle an even larger data stream.

However, users are discovering some pockets of trouble when it comes to implementing WAN optimization products and scalability tops the list, says Forrester's Whiteley. "Does it process enough TCP flows? Does it have enough on-board disk capacity? It's not just about megabits per second," he says. In general, WAN optimization products scale out (the number of devices that can be interlinked) and scale up (the amount of optimized throughput each appliance can process).

"You should

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test solutions that support the right throughput on the WAN connection with all of the optimization techniques turned on," says Forrester's Whiteley.

Another problem can be reliability or backing up the box, he says. "Some companies are getting burned by the fact that there aren't modular components; they aren't hot-swappable," he says. In one example, a Toronto company with Bangalore, India-based developers discovered it had reached 80% WAN bandwidth utilization, "which is almost catastrophic" says Whiteley. The company installed WAN optimization appliances on either end for reduction in overall traffic and cut its WAN bandwidth utilization to approximately 40%. That worked out great ... for a while.

"Over time, that utilization crept back up to 60%," says Whiteley. The "creeping" of utilization--in this case, from 40% to 60%--is very common, he adds.

But without the WAN appliance, the firm is operating at 120% of link capacity and must be prepared in case the appliance fails by installing "high-availability pairs or trying to get solutions with higher reliability like modular hardware, in-service upgrades and hot-swappable components," says Whiteley. (That's the strategy Gill at Michael Baker Corp. applied.) Riverbed's Saldich says users don't need to back up every box with another. "Let's say you have 100 branches," he says, and one big box in the data center. "If the one in the data center is deployed serially or in parallel, that's a pretty reliable deployment," adds Saldich.

This was first published in September 2008

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