App acceleration: Managed service or roll your own?

There no longer seems to be much argument about the need to optimize the performance of applications over wide area networks – the business requires service level guarantees and you’re going to save money in the process. A win/win. The only question now is, do you buy and install the optimization gear yourself or put the responsibility in the lap of a service provider?

The Experts
Don MacVittie
Don MacVittie

Technical Marketing Manager II at F5 Networks, says building your own optimization infrastructure gives you the control needed for such a critical function, say nothing of the fact that you can accelerate multiple applications with ease. View debate

Ron Haigh
Ron Haigh

Vice President of Cloud Architecture and Services, Virtela says a managed service is the modern way to go, cheaper up front and ultimately more flexible and lower cost. View debate

Don MacVittie

Build it yourself

Organizations set out to optimize applications primarily to address cost, flexibility, security and control issues, but optimization is heavily dependent on the locality of the application in relation to the optimization mechanism. That means deploying your own infrastructure is far more corporate-friendly than paying someone else to do it for you.

Let's examine the primary drivers to adopt application acceleration and the key differences between the two approaches.

The cost of deploying a single application to a hosting provider (be it cloud, content delivery network or what-have-you) is probably lower than the cost of purchasing an application optimization controller, at least in terms of up-front costs. Yet any TCO evaluation reveals the savings to be greatly overstated and somewhat illusionary, since you will pay for both hosting and optimization every month that your application is deployed.

And that's only one application. By building your own, you can accelerate as many applications as you like without added costs other than the admin time to configure the types of acceleration you wish to apply.

Next is flexibility. If someone else hosts your application, when you want another app to receive the benefits of acceleration, you can move that program out to the hosting service and pay them even more each month. With a roll-your-own solution, you simply make sure the application's traffic is routed through the optimization tool and configure the optimization desired. No cost. No negotiation. Just acceleration.

In terms of security, a roll-your-own solution meets the security policies you set for the entire IT organization. You are the one running it; if it does anything different it is because you chose to implement differing security policies for the given application. In a hosted environment security is, at best, a set of contractual assurances that the provider will protect your application and your data. You don't control the security policy, you merely suggest and contract for results, instead of implementation.

Which relates to control. If you want the ability to tweak optimization parameters to suit the needs of a particular application, you need to be the one accelerating. If you want to tighten security on a given application because its data is highly sensitive or the application itself is deemed high-risk, you'll want acceleration tools that you manage, which is to say that you have built. If you want to change which applications are optimized, it is simply a case of changing policies on the application optimization box. No fees. No negotiations. Just agility.

What's more, you can set an application acceleration appliance to use generic policies on all applications that flow through it, giving you some optimization for all of your applications out-of-the-box, while you fine-tune only the applications/connections that are most critical. No expenditure. No budget increases.

There is also locality to consider. If your application – like most applications – uses a database, speeding access to it by moving it "closer to the user" does no good if doing so moves it "farther from the database." The technology utilized by application optimization engines reduces the impact of latency through a series of technological enhancements. That means the user feels like the application is faster – has less lag, loads in a reasonable amount of time, etc. – without the need to put copies of it all over the world.

So the fundamental questions are simple. Do you want secure, fast, agile application acceleration with fine-grained control over what and how much optimization is applied to any or all applications? Or do you want to optimize a single application while compromising on security and struggling with database connections?

Take the more versatile approach. Put in an application acceleration infrastructure and reap the benefits without paying each and every month for each and every application. No one will complain that your Web site is suddenly faster from Melbourne if you build a broad-based application acceleration solution for your accounts payable application.

F5 Networks is the global leader in Application Delivery Networking (ADN), focused on ensuring the secure, reliable, and fast delivery of applications. F5's flexible architectural framework enables community-driven innovation that helps organizations enhance IT agility and dynamically deliver services that generate true business value.

MacVittie is Technical Marketing Manager II at F5 Networks.

Ron Haigh

Think Beyond the Box

When it comes to application acceleration, a managed service easily delivers more for less – more flexibility, more speed and more savings. "Roll your own" is old school; graduate to greater benefits with managed services.

With a managed application acceleration service there is no huge upfront capex cost for hardware for each location, no expensive in-house specialists to deploy and maintain the equipment, no vendor lock in … the list goes on.

A managed service:
• Delivers end-to-end application performance guarantees (SLAs) and support on a 24x7 basis
• Leverages cloud service options to achieve truly disruptive pricing and business flexibility
• Optimizes deployment and technology strategies best suited to your environment

Rolling your own application acceleration solution is the epitome of an old school IT delivery model: expensive, inflexible and painfully complex to scale given today's highly-distributed corporate world. As a result, even the top appliance makers have captured only a fraction of the large addressable market.

Managed services are the smart alternative, lowering the enterprise barrier to entry and unlocking the real potential and widespread adoption of application acceleration technology.

Managed Service: No worries

There is no such thing as "set it and forget it" when it comes to IT infrastructure. To get the most mileage, application acceleration technology needs to be fine-tuned with a holistic view of the enterprise IT ecosystem. That requires specialized expertise, not only in the technology but in systems integration to address the complexities within a company's WAN, LAN and security infrastructure.

A managed service is backed by IT pros that have deep knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems. Companies like ours, Virtela, are often brought in after the fact to help enterprises optimize an existing roll your own application acceleration deployment that has become cumbersome and labor-intensive, and takes over ongoing operational support. Managed Service Providers (MSP) do extensive testing and certification of vendor technologies and how they behave in the real world. We work out the kinks so you don't have to.

Which leads to service-level agreements (SLA). With a managed service, SLAs can be extremely meaningful. Case in point: Virtela offers a money-back guarantee for its application acceleration service based simply on end-user experience. Not satisfied with the performance boost? Get 250% of your fee back, no questions asked. Can you get that from your gear maker?

Managed Service: No boundaries

It's no small challenge to deploy and maintain application acceleration devices around the country, let alone the world. Top MSPs can reach virtually anywhere on the globe, scale services up or down quickly, with region-specific expertise. This is cost-prohibitive for all but the largest of organizations to do themselves, and even then, I'd argue it's not the best use of their people or budgets.

Another universal truth: there's no one-size-fits-all solution. A managed service can deliver almost limitless deployment options. Virtela, for example, offers managed branch office appliances as well as virtualized and cloud-based application acceleration options. Most customers are best served with a hybrid approach. They leverage the disruptive economics and on-demand benefits of our cloud acceleration wherever possible, and selectively augment with branch office appliances. Is your roll your own model cloud-ready? Standalone appliance deployments may not be compatible with your evolving cloud strategy, and certainly are not future-proof.

Managed Service: No risk, high reward

One of the key benefits of any managed service is avoiding upfront capital costs, and it's particularly compelling with application acceleration. A roll-your-own approach can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 upfront for each branch office appliance (not to mention yearly vendor licensing and maintenance and IT staff costs). Virtela's cloud-based service is zero upfront cost, just $5 per day per branch, and leverages a consumable model: turn it on, turn it off, and pay only for what you use. Plus, it works over any network.

As IT concerns shift from network uptime to application response time, cloud services have met the challenge with no performance trade-off. Witness Virtela customer Measurement Specialties: "I didn't realize I'd need a seatbelt; everyday tasks like mapping drives and querying folders on remote servers are smokin' fast – easily 25 times faster," says Bob Andreini, the company's global director of IT.

How's that possible without a dedicated device at each branch? Virtela has 50 local cloud centers around the world, bringing services to the enterprise doorstep. A dedicated device solution can be delivered and managed for you, too.

Virtela is the world's largest independent managed network, security and technology services company. The company's model integrates best-of-breed technologies and the best local, regional and global networks to offer unparalleled services and support in more than 190 countries.

Haigh is Vice President of Cloud Architecture and Services at Virtela.

Want more Tech Debates? Check out our archive page

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in