The evolution of the WAN is finally underway. The primary force driving a new WAN architecture is, of course, the cloud. Building a WAN prior to the cloud was a challenging but straightforward task. Connect your branches to a central hub, have one connection to the Internet, and away you go. Optimizing the WAN with WAN optimization controllers meant a box on either side of the link, and like magic WAN-based applications would perform like LAN-based applications.
Now, enter the era of the cloud. Now there are Internet connections everywhere and the nice, tidy, orderly WAN we had is a big, complex, chaotic system. Optimizing a hybrid WAN is a difficult, if not impossible, task using traditional WAN optimization. Unless you’ve got some pull with the folks at Salesforce or Google, it’s pretty hard to get a WAN optimization appliance deployed in those environments. Clearly, a new type of solution is needed to address the concept of a hybrid WAN that leverages both premise and cloud resources.
Last week, Silver Peak announced a new product called Unity that can be thought of as an intelligent WAN optimization "fabric." The fabric enables network managers to track the location of cloud services and have a real-time “weather map” of Internet traffic to help find the optimum path for traffic flows. Airlines use weather maps to fly around trouble to give its passengers an experience that’s as good as can be. Similarly, IT organizations can use the fabrics weather map to route traffic around potential problem spots to keep data flowing securely and as fast as possible.
When Unity is deployed, the solution creates an overlay fabric to the network that sits between the enterprise network and a number of SaaS and IaaS providers. The fabric communicates with Silver Peak’s Cloud Intelligence services, which constantly aggregates data from the changing Internet traffic patterns. In a sense, Unity is bringing order to a system that has traditionally been highly chaotic. Customers can then view the entire network, cloud, and premise through the Silver Peak Global Management System, which gives network managers control.
Each separate instance on the Unity fabric communicates with Silver Peak’s Cloud Intelligence service, which continually aggregates changing web patterns and traffic information for the user. IT managers can view this through the Silver Peak Global Management System (GMS), which orchestrates the traffic routing.
Silver Peak has built an advanced exterior routing system that identifies the closest point of egress to the cloud data centers and routes traffic to the cloud service over the best path. Also, there’s an interior routing protocol that selects the best path on the company network by monitoring packet loss, latency, and bandwidth in real time.
At time of launch, Silver Peak supported about 30 cloud services, including all of the mainstream SaaS and IaaS services, such as Salesforce.com, Google Apps, Office 365, Box, Amazon Web Services, and Windows Azure. The company told me in a pre-briefing that it would continue to add support for additional applications, eventually supporting every major SaaS service and many of the IaaS services on the market.
The Unity service is a strong, differentiated product for Silver Peak. Instead of just trying to find new use cases for its traditional WAN optimization technology, the company took an architectural approach to addressing the needs of businesses looking to leverage cloud services. The WAN is changing and changing fast, so it makes sense that WAN optimization needs to evolve equally fast.