Today's branch office

IT organizations migrated away from having branch offices that are IT-heavy

This is the second in a series of three newsletters intended to demonstrate that the next generation branch office represents a multi-year migration away from branch offices that are IT-heavy to ones that are IT-lite and that as part of this migration, the WAN plays an ever increasing role in application delivery. This newsletter will discuss how IT organizations migrated away from having branch offices that are IT-heavy and in so doing, created the performance and management challenges associated with Application Delivery 1.0.

Part 1: The Evolving Branch Office

As is well known, the cost, control and security issues involved with the IT-heavy model of branch offices that was common at the beginning of this decade has caused the majority of IT organizations to embark on programs of centralization and consolidation of IT resources. Under these programs at least some of the servers, applications and storage are moved out of the typical branch office and are consolidated into centralized data centers. As of this year, 40% of IT organizations have consolidated the majority of their servers into centralized data centers and that percentage will increase in 2010. As will be discussed, the fact that so many IT resources have been centralized means that unlike the situation with branches that are IT-heavy, the performance of the WAN has a major impact on the productivity of today's branch office employees.

One of the many benefits associated with server centralization is that because there are fewer applications and servers located in branch offices, this allows a greater number of branch offices to function with no on-site IT staff. However, the act of server centralization gave rise to one of the signature challenges associated with application delivery 1.0. That challenge is the poor performance that results from running a chatty protocol such as CIFS (Common Internet File System) over a WAN. To mitigate this and other performance challenges associated with server centralization, IT organizations have begun to make heavy use of WAN optimization controllers (WOC). WOCs are typically appliances that improve network and application performance and reduce bandwidth consumption using techniques such as application-aware QoS, data compression, caching, de-duplication as well as protocol and application-specific optimization.

Another key characteristic of Application Delivery 1.0 is that while most of the management functionality is still focused on individual technology domains, there has been some attempt to deploy application performance management (APM) tools to measure the application response time the end user sees. In addition, there has been a growth in the number of management tools that facilitate remotely managing branch office IT resources from central sites.

While there has been a movement to remove servers from branch offices there has also been somewhat of a counter movement to increase the number of appliances in branch offices. In somewhat of a worst-case scenario, a branch office could have separate appliances providing each of the following functions: network and application optimization, firewall, antivirus, intrusion detection and prevention, denial-of-service mitigation and Web filtering.

As part of the evolution of their branch offices, some IT organizations have begun to further simplify their branch office infrastructure by deploying a branch office box (BOB). The advantage of the BOB is that it can consolidate several functions (such as WOC, print server, file server, DHCP server, DNS server) into a single physical device, while also allowing all of these capabilities to be managed via a single system management interface. We have also begun to see the deployment of desktop virtualization. While not as popular as server virtualization, desktop virtualization allows IT organizations to centralize the management of desktop applications including applications hosted at the central site (server-side virtualized applications) and applications that are streamed on-demand to client devices (client-side virtualized applications). Unfortunately, as was the case with the initial centralization of IT resources out of branch offices and into centralized data centers, the latency and bandwidth associated with the WAN can severely hinder the performance of desktop virtualization.

In our next newsletter we will discuss the next stage in the evolution of branch offices – the adoption of a branch office design that is IT-lite.

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Part 1: The Evolving Branch Office

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