Cisco's new WAAS 4.2: Breakthrough innovations or just fixing bugs?

You need to get past the marketing fluff on Cisco's latest WAN acceleration tool and read the release notes to see the truth.

I have been asked many times for my thoughts on the new release of Cisco WAAS 4.2. I have held off writing about this until now, after I had a chance to read over the release notes, talk to people and watch some videos on the subject. You won't be surprised to learn that I don’t fully share Cisco views on the new release, but it was good marketing.

Cisco has made a big push in the last two weeks, culminating with Cisco Live in Las Vegas this week, to find a way to get its Cisco WAAS out in the news. I have seen the Cisco blog site with all of the new marketing materials which declares that this new version is "a breakthrough innovation" in WAN acceleration. But, as we all know, you need to get past the fluff to the release notes to see the truth.

So I found the release notes here: Release Note for Cisco Wide Area Application Services (Software Version 4.2.1) and took a look. To be honest, I see nothing that is groundbreaking for Cisco customers other than SSL Encryption Optimization, and with that Cisco is over two years late to the game. Other vendors have had that feature for a while.

Cisco seems to have tried to fixed many bugs in the new version of software as you can see from the release notes. There are no other new protocol features that they are accelerating.

As for the fluff, putting a spin on optimizing WebEx -- which is HTTP -- or how a product now works in the "cloud" or "SaaS" is not an innovation in my book. An innovation would be adding ten new protocols that the previous version doesn't optimize, or doesn't optimize well. Innovation would be fixing the data store problem which I think results in bad architecture of the product. Innovation would be using the product in the new Cius Mobile Android/video tablet you just announced to optimize and reduce bandwidth over WLANs and 3G networks.

Innovation makes your competition go, "Wow! "We why didn't we do that?"

So let's talk cloud for a minute. Cisco wants to take this product and move it to the cloud to speed up everything. How and who will use it in the cloud especially if it doesn't optimize all of your protocols? I just don’t see it. All I see is massive discounts to customers to get them to buy the product. [Disclosure: I am not a Cisco reseller and I do resell a competing WAAS product by Riverbed.] I see deals like: Buy an ISR and get a free WAAS blade.

So let’s talk about the ISR push also. How much do you assume the ISR can really take with a WAAS blade in it? I believe you can only get and use so much processing power before you put the ISR in harm’s way. I hope Cisco is beefing up the ISR’s with a lot more memory to handle the WAAS and Windows applications. But I'd like Cisco to work on the WAAS appliance first and then move on to ISR. 

I am also concerned over how much Cisco is, or isn't, really investing in WAAS. I don't have hard data, but when I was in Las Vegas for Interop, a Cisco employee told me point blank that “the WAAS is not a major concern for Cisco. We put our money to Telepresence and UC. That is where the money is and where the future is.” Admittedly, this person's opinion isn't a fact, just an opinion, but the vice president of channels for another company was sitting with me when it was said.

If that's true, than I say that Cisco needs to put as much money into the WAAS product as they do UC and Telepresence; they need to bring it up on the same level as other vendors. How about forgetting about the marketing and using those marketing funds to produce a WAAS product that does more and performs better than the other choices in the market? Fixing bugs is important, but it doesn't not make Cisco leapfrog ahead.

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.