WAN acceleration and optimization appears to be on the verge of a shift in architecture as new host-based and virtual technologies move in on the hardware appliance model that has dominated so far.
The movement got a kick-start earlier this month when Riverbed rolled out a cloud computing initiative that uses a new set of virtual WAN acceleration and iSCSI storage appliances. The technology uses largely the same protocol of the company's flagship Steelhead appliance, except that instead of deploying in remote offices, the modules reside instead in public clouds like Amazon's EC2.
Such a move is clearly intended to support Riverbed's hardware platform as much as it is to extend its reach into the new cloud platforms. Not so for technologies coming out of Microsoft. The company is said to be working on a new compression and redundancy-elimination scheme that would reside in enterprise host systems, reducing much of the application data load before it leaves the data center and largely eliminating the need for additional acceleration on the WAN. The research, conducted mostly in India, is probably a few years away from actual implementation, but it could nonetheless represent a serious challenge to a number of well-entrenched optimization vendors.
And many of the leading indicators that WAN acceleration will continue to be one of the strongest IT spending areas for the foreseeable future. Research firms like TheInfoPro continue to flag acceleration as a key requirement in IT budgets due to its high ROI factor. It expects IT spending to accelerate in 2010 as the world economy pulls out of recession.
Of course, hardware implementations are generally the most expensive way to introduce new capabilities to the enterprise. The question is whether organizations will still have to devote significant resources to WAN optimization, or will the new cloud and software technologies help to lighten the financial load just a bit.