WAN Optimization: First Virtual, then the Cloud

Arthur Cole

WAN optimization has already begun the transition from a hardware implementation to all-software solutions, and now it looks like the race to virtual and even service-based offerings is in full swing.

Last month, I highlighted the movement of traditional WO stalwarts like Silver Peak Systems to convert appliance-based products into software modules running on commodity servers while retaining critical features like packet correction, bandwidth utilization and global management.


And earlier this year, we saw Blue Coat come out with a virtual WAN appliance that can be brought up under a VMware virtual machine to accelerate application performance without adding new layers of IT infrastructure.

Now it seems that Riverbed Technology is looking to join the party with a virtual version of its Steelhead appliance. Dubbed, naturally, Virtual Steelhead, the system is built for the VMware vSphere platform with the idea that users will be able to deploy acceleration in a wider range of environments whenever the need arises. The package could be particularly useful in extreme circumstances, such as hardened military settings or emergency first response situations, the company says.

Still, Riverbed was careful to accentuate the fact that the Virtual Steelhead is not the company's answer to cloud-based Optimization-as-a-Service offerings. That product, most likely to be known as the Cloud Steelhead, according to Enterprise Networking Planet, is forthcoming and will allow cloud service providers to add acceleration to their overall service portfolios.

In that regard, Riverbed will be following where other optimization firms, such as Expand Networks, are already treading. Expand is already up with an optimization service and, as evidenced by a recent Q&A with TMCnet, is already perfecting the pricing model to ensure users are not hit with major costs until revenues start rolling in. As well, the Expand model makes no distinction between a virtual product and a cloud product. Its cloud service is based on the company's Virtual Accelerator, Appliance Accelerator and Mobile Accelerator Clients.

All of this begs the question of whether the traditional appliance model for WAN optimization will last much longer. On the surface, it would seem the answer is no. Why put up with the time and expense of integrating an expensive piece of hardware in the branch office when you could easily deploy a new software module or, better yet, a virtual appliance on the cloud?

True, it does get rather complicated pulling acceleration services from a remote location, but the end result should be the same. That is, of course, unless network congestion starts to slow down the acceleration service itself. And then, wouldn't that create a need for an application acceleration optimizer?

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