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There are of course a lot of subtleties that fall under these two categories, but those are the basics, says Robin Layland, president of Layland Consulting and author of "The Ultimate Guide to Gaining Control of the WAN". "It's nice to believe there's sexy ways to do this," he says, "but those are really the only ones."
While different vendors have different features, all of them cover the basics. "We're to the point now that we're so many years into it that pretty much all of the established brands can do it," he says. Management platforms are important because they can make the initial rollout and ongoing operational tasks simpler. Otherwise, they will all to a greater or lesser degree reduce the number of bits crossing WAN links.
That degree depends on each business's mix of traffic and how well each vendor can optimize that mix. Some vendors are mixing in other technologies, such as security and monitoring, and these may sway buying decisions but not affect WAN costs, Layland says.
With WAN bandwidth requirements increasing for most businesses, the best some customers can hope for is slowing the need to buy it, not actually being able to cut bandwidth, he says.
The cost of deploying WAN optimization gear has to be factored in because its price can affect how quickly the gear will pay for itself. For example, using WAN optimization may require new WAN router interfaces or entire routers, he says, an additional capital expense.
Businesses using VoIP should consider SIP trunking, which puts all IP traffic onto a single trunk into the carrier network. This can dramatically reduce the costs of trunks for businesses using separate access lines for voice and data - 20% to 60%, says Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar.
Caching may help reduce WAN costs depending on how much and the type of video a business uses. If real-time video is used to broadcast the CEO's speech to all the branches, WAN optimization gear should be able to send just a single stream of the video to each branch, then route that one stream to all the users interested.
But if video is being used for training and employees will watch on their own schedules, caching a single copy in the branch means it won't need to be downloaded again and again, reducing overall use of the WAN, Layland says.
The other big way to save on WAN costs - cheaper bandwidth - leaves few options, Layland says. In general, less expensive bandwidth is less reliable bandwidth, and that can limit the choices businesses have.
For businesses that don't have the personnel to grow an in-house expert, hiring a bandwidth consultant can be cost-effective. Each service provider may have many different options from DSL to MPLS, but it's difficult for customers to steep themselves in the ins and outs of each carrier. "That takes a lot of time. If you want to save some money, renting the expertise may be a good deal," he says.