Guide to Application Acceleration and Traffic Optimization

WAN optimization: Money for nothing, clicks for free

Optimization technology can slash the cost of WAN bandwidth and improve app performance

Feature By Tim Greene, Network World, 01/13/07

WAN optimization technology is a way to save money - take that to the bank. For instance, custom machinery manufacturer Curt G. Joa in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., 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 $100,000 including time, hardware and licenses. Instead, the company spent $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 $20,000 reduced the need for bandwidth between a Millard Lumber site in Omaha and a second site in Lincoln, Neb., from three T-1s to one, saving $3,000 per month. That's a payoff within seven months.

In addition, WAN-optimization 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 often are 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's soft benefits like happier customers and more cooperation," he says.

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

Even so, the optimization 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 data centers, saving money by reducing the number of servers in corporate networks that need to be purchased, installed, maintained and repaired.

Optimization appliances use a variety of means - compression, caching, boosting TCP efficiency, protocol optimization, 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 - Cisco, Citrix, Expand Networks, F5 Networks, Juniper, Packeteer, Riverbed and others - use varying blends of WAN-optimizing technology, so one vendor's gear might do a better job on a particular traffic mix than another's. Consequently, the single most important thing customers can do is test gear made by more than one vendor on live networks.

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