WAN optimization product roundup

A look at the wide variety of specialized products available for application acceleration, TCP optimization and IT consolidation with data center storage.

Determining the differences between wide-area network (WAN) optimization products for storage and those for remote-office data protection can be confusing. Products in both of these categories aim to reduce the amount of data sent over the wire from branch offices to a main data center.

Industry analysts say a good way to separate WAN optimization products from those that simply reduce data over the wire is to consider how WAN optimization products impact TCP/IP performance. WAN optimization products provide centralized management of applications and programs that work to overcome the inherent limitations of the TCP/IP protocol over wide-area networks, such as latency and packet loss -- as well as data reduction on the wire. Data reduction in WAN optimization products can take the form of sub-file-level data deduplication like that performed by backup storage appliances, or compression achieved by cutting down on the "chattiness" of the TCP/IP protocol itself. Storage analysts also see increasing differentiation and specialization within this space.

For more on trends in WAN optimization products and how users can select the right remote-office optimization product, listen to our WAN optimization podcast with Taneja Group senior analyst Jeff Boles.

Below is a list of some of the most commonly used WAN optimization products along with their different specialties.

Blue Coat Systems Application Delivery Network 

Blue Coat Systems Inc.'s offering is built from its own internal IP and acquisitions, most notably the purchase of Packeteer in April 2008, which in turn had bought WAFS player Tacit in 2006. The resulting suite of products, dubbed the Application Delivery Network (ADN), is made up of components including application performance monitoring, WAN optimization and Secure Web Gateway.

Analysts say Blue Coat's differentiation comes from its focus on data security along with WAN optimization. The Secure Web Gateway can prevent malware downloads and provide threat detection and authentication services.

Brocade Storage Optimized TCP

Brocade provides WAN optimization services like congestion management and latency and packet-loss mitigation specifically for Fibre Channel (FC) workloads delivered over an extended Ethernet network, also known as FCIP. Storage Optimized TCP software is delivered in Brocade's 7500E switch, as well as through a card that can be slotted into its DCX backbone switches.

Certeon aCelera

Certeon Inc. is a relatively small player in this space compared with networking giants like Brocade and Cisco Systems Inc. It offers its aCelera WAN optimization products as virtual appliances. The product offers packet compression, which reduces the "chattiness" of IP packets through caching on either side of the wire; traffic prioritization; protocol proxy, which multiplexes common protocol streams such as HTTP for bandwidth optimization; traffic throttling; and error correction. aCelera is also application-aware, meaning it can recognize objects commonly sent by particular applications and cache them locally to avoid WAN latency.

Cisco Systems Network Capacity Expansion (NCE) and Wide Area Application Services (WAAS)

The networking giant offers two systems covering different aspects of WAN optimization and wide-area networking for storage. The Network Capacity Expansion (NCE) module is a card that slots into Cisco Systems Inc.'s ISR routers to reduce bandwidth and latency limitations on the WAN.

 Wide Area Application Services (WAAS), meanwhile, is software intended to accelerate the centralized delivery of certain applications, especially VMware ESX Server and VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Citrix Systems Inc. Branch Repeater

Formerly known as WANScaler, Citrix Systems Inc.'s Branch Repeater provides local caching and application delivery for branch offices, particularly for its virtual desktop application. According to Forrester Research analyst Chris Silva, "Citrix is focused on tight messaging around application and desktop virtualization, as well as local caching for branch offices."

Expand Networks Virtual Accelerator and Compass Accelerators 

Expand Networks Inc. is focused on specific applications and target audiences in the WAN optimization market, including server virtualization applications and optimizing traffic sent via alternate networking modalities like satellite networks.

F5 Networks WANJet

F5 Networks Inc. sells IP networking switches and services through its Big-IP appliances. WANJet is one of the services layered onto those appliances, and includes most of the WAN optimization checklist, including quality of service (QoS) and bandwidth throttling, packet compression, latency and loss mitigation. WANJet also offers SSL encryption and decryption over the wire. F5 touts WANJet's integration with storage replication applications, including EMC Corp.'s SRDF.

Juniper Networks WX and WXC Series Application Acceleration Appliances Juniper Networks Inc.'s WX Series and WXC Series appliances provide compression, TCP acceleration, SSL encryption and network monitoring, as well as application-specific acceleration. They also include the option of "stacking" modular appliances for scale-out. The WXC is a higher end product than the WX Series, offering copper ports and support for up to 840 connected locations and up to 3 TB internal disk storage capacity.

Forrester Research's Silva puts Juniper and Cisco in the same category in this market -- networking vendors looking to expand their incumbency in users' networking environments.

NetEx HyperIP, NetEx/IP, eFT

 Network Executive Software Inc. (NetEx), a spinoff of StorageTek Corp. before it was acquired by Sun Microsystems Inc., offers software-based products. HyperIP accelerates and optimizes data replication over standard IP WANs. NetEx/IP, more recently announced, is meant to allow online service providers to stream more data or take in larger data sets, as well as speed the transfer of data over the wire between a service provider and heterogeneous user sites. eFT supports ad hoc file transfers among heterogeneous servers. Unlike some application acceleration offerings, NetEx doesn't reduce or deduplicate the amount of data sent over the wire.

Riverbed Steelhead and Steelhead Mobile

Riverbed Technology Inc.'s Steelhead appliances perform application-aware, sub-file-level data deduplication and local caching, as well as TCP optimization and quality of service prioritization. Riverbed's appliances are most widely deployed in the architectural and engineering sector where they are used to cache files like CAD drawings between data centers. Steelhead Mobile is a software-only version of the Steelhead appliance used to allow bandwidth optimization between the data center and mobile devices as well as remote-office servers.

According to Silva, Riverbed and Blue Coat are most comparable in terms of application-aware acceleration, and Riverbed is working toward competing in the security space with its recent acquisition of Mazu Networks. However, Silva said, "Blue Coat acquired Packeteer earlier, and so they're further down that path."

Silver Peak Systems NX Series

Silver Peak Systems Inc., probably Riverbed's fiercest competitor, claims its product does a more granular byte-by-byte comparison of data than Riverbed, and that it works at the IP layer, while Riverbed works at the TCP layer and groups bytes together for comparison. Silver Peak is focused on very high-bandwidth WAN links at large data centers, particularly those looking to optimize WAN links for data replication. Silver Peak has placed a special emphasis on packet loss mitigation. Silver Peak is partnered with EMC for SRDF replication.

While most of these products have been delivered so far on hardware appliances, Dragon Slayer Consulting founder and analyst Marc Staimer said software-only or virtual appliance delivery for most of these products is on the horizon. This, in turn, could tie in to optimizing network links for delivery of data to and from cloud service providers, he said. "It's a big issue when it comes to any major acceptance of the cloud."

 

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