Even though major vendors like Microsoft and Cisco are positioning themselves in the WAN optimization market, a plethora of smaller firms and start-ups are likely to ensure a wide variety of solutions for some time to come.
In fact, there are so many underlying technologies at play here that it's often difficult to compare competing systems or even tell which ones are competitive in the first place. A quick rule of thumb, however: Whether it's called WAN optimization, application acceleration, wide area file services (WAFS) or any number of other tags, it's still all about increasing the flow of data across existing network infrastructures.
One of the young guns in the optimization market is Expand Networks. The company recently added four new hardware controllers to its Accelerator line: the 4830 and 4930 for small branch offices, and the 6830 and 6930 for larger regional offices. All four are tied to the new Compass 6.1 platform that offers TCP acceleration, dynamic bandwidth adjustment and WAFS transparency. The company reasons that with a typical branch office maintaining 10-30 concurrent TCP sessions at a time, even the smaller 4830 and 4930 units, with the ability to manage up to 64,000 sessions, should suffice for most organizations.
Blue Coat Systems is another small firm that seems capable of swimming in deep waters, according to InformationWeek. The company has a firm base in Web security and is now looking to leverage its ProxySG optimization appliance in government and educational markets, as well as corporate interests looking to venture into hosted applications and cloud computing.
At F5 Networks, the future is all about blending WAN optimization and Web acceleration using a mix of symmetric and asymmetric approaches. In an age where providing dedicated WAN links to remote sites that may have only a few workers will be harder to justify, the ability to boost applications performance across a variety of network types with a single hybrid system could prove to be a winner.
While overall performance is probably the key means to evaluate optimization systems, there's also something to be said for how easily they integrate with existing infrastructure. That's the tack Citrix Systems takes with its WANScaler line. The system was designed with transparency in mind, capable of integrating seamlessly with existing routers, security devices and QoS policies.
As the benefits of data center consolidation continue to mount, the need for distributing data and applications to more far-flung locations can only increase. Optimization technologies are one of the surest methods to ensure productivity doesn't fall victim to centralization.