Software-Based WAN Optimization: Ripe for Virtualization and the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Quick quiz: You need to improve access to centralized applications in the branch office. Do you: (A) deploy a costly hardware device to accelerate performance over the WAN; or (B) gain the same capability with a virtual machine on an existing server or desktop?

The obvious answer, B, has been in front of us for some time -- a preference that has been validated by a recent survey on behalf of NetEx that showed an 88 percent preference for software-based WAN solutions. However, only relatively recently has workable, all-software WAN-acceleration technology become available.

Traditional WAN-optimization providers are leading part of this evolution. Companies like Silver Peak systems are supplementing their appliance-based portfolios with software solutions designed to both lower the cost of deployment and to allow enterprises to use existing virtual environments. The company's new VX system offers many of the same features found on the NX appliance, including packet correction, intelligent bandwidth utilization and the company's Global Management System (GMS) for automated configuration, monitoring and management.

Software solutions also simplify the integration process with third-party networking and security platforms. Certeon, for one, is doing a brisk business folding its aCelera system with integrated security platforms from igxglobal and others. The software approach provides improved scalability at a lower TCO, and Certeon has the added advantage of being hardware agnostic, meaning it can be delivered to a wide range of customers without a lot of hardware/software customization.

Cloud providers, too, are eager to provide easily deployable acceleration solutions to customers to improve application delivery. nScaled has turned to Certeon as well to provide acceleration for its VMware-based offerings. The company is using the aCelera platform to provide rapid access to core business apps like Autonomy Document Management and Microsoft SharePoint.

From there, though, it's only a small set to delivering WAN optimization itself as another service on the cloud (WOaaS anyone?). Already, we are starting to see movement in this direction with companies like Virtela offering optimization services between centralized operations, remote data centers, branch offices and even mobile users across the globe. The company says it can offer acceleration boosts ranging from 5 to 25X -- not quite up to the level of on-premise systems, but available for a fraction of the cost.

WAN optimization first gained in importance during the consolidation boom that kicked off with the rise of virtualization. Now that technology has made it feasible to shift data not just across town, but across continents, expect to see a lot more emphasis placed on wide-area infrastructure to ensure productivity does not fall victim to network congestion.

Ultimately, we can expect to see the cloud as both an enabler and a beneficiary of optimization/acceleration technology.

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