WAN optimization: New form factors, multi-function appliances on tap, experts say

* WAN optimization and application acceleration predictions from industry executives

When I asked WAN optimization veterans to weigh in on what they think will be the biggest technology and industry trends to watch during the year ahead, the economy (not surprisingly) played a part in many predictions.

“The business case for WAN optimization will be increasingly based on quantitative metrics, like reduced bandwidth expenditures and improved backup times, [rather] than qualitative benefits, like improved employee productivity,” predicts Jeff Aaron, vice president of marketing at Silver Peak Systems. “This will increase the focus on server-to-server communications like database transfers and backup/recovery vs. end-user applications such as e-mail and Web.”

Economic pressures will change how enterprises invest in application acceleration devices, adds Hooman Beheshti, product vice president at Strangeloop Networks. “No longer a nice-to-have, in 2009 application acceleration devices will prove their worth as critical enablers for customer retention and become a must-have for high performing Web applications,” Beheshti says.

Mark Urban, senior director of product marketing at Blue Coat Systems, predicts that enterprises will demand better management tools going forward. “As IT managers are squeezed by budgets and the constant need for greater bandwidth capacity, they will demand better visibility into applications on the network,” Urban says. “With a granular level of visibility into applications, IT managers can make smarter management and optimization decisions. This drive to more efficient network resource planning is all contingent upon management visibility.”

Managed WAN optimization services also will get a boost, predicts Tim Richards, director of product management at Juniper Networks. “In slow economic times, CIOs must continue to buy network services and curtail spending on infrastructure. Therefore, in 2009 more infrastructure spending will happen through padded network services budgets,” he suggests.

Richards also predicts a more pervasive rollout of WAN optimization technology. “WAN optimization will extend beyond branch offices to include home offices, contractors, and mobile employees,” Richards says. “This will be enabled by wider rollout of low-end, small footprint appliances and WAN optimization client software and supported by highly scalable management systems.”

Meanwhile, ongoing IT projects will contribute to demand for network optimization and application acceleration products, industry watchers say.

For instance, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments -- which complement data center consolidation efforts -- are highly reliant on application delivery and WAN optimization solutions, says Yaron Bielous, vice president of product management at Radware. In addition, “convergence of voice and data [networks] delivers cost savings and is occurring in many enterprises on a large scale, creating new service availability and QoS requirements,” Bielous adds.

Growing adoption of software-as-a-service and cloud-based services will require enterprises to deploy WAN optimization solutions that have visibility into encrypted traffic, predicts Blue Coat’s Urban. “Without visibility into encrypted traffic, WAN optimization solutions typically can’t accelerate it. To ensure these external applications work for their branch offices, enterprises will need WAN optimization solutions that can decrypt SSL traffic to determine how it should be treated.”

A number of experts also predict a shift away from dedicated WAN optimization appliances.

One alternative is a virtual appliance, says Adam Davison, corporate vice president of sales and marketing at Expand Networks. “Enterprise customers will demand more choice this year of how they want WAN Optimization deployed, meaning the market will need to innovate,” Davison says. “We'll see further integration of WAN optimization into routers, the development of next generation ‘intercommunicating’ clients, software and virtualized solutions, and the bundling of WAN optimization into managed services offerings.”

The industry will promote cross-pollination of security, access and WAN optimization, says Juniper’s Richards. “WAN optimization clients will be delivered through SSL VPN gateways based on user credentials. Standalone WAN optimization clients will give way to integrated solutions with capabilities such as clientless download, integrated security and network access control,” he says. “Soft WAN optimization appliances that can be downloaded to access routers will emerge as a new category, and [unified threat management] appliances will interact with WAN optimization appliances to enforce network traffic security.”

WAN optimization gear that can handle real-time applications including VoIP, video training and video conferencing also will gain interest, Urban says. “Technologies such as stream-splitting live video in the branch office, caching, or pre-populating on-demand video can reduce network demands dramatically,” Urban says. “These capabilities are especially attractive if they can be accomplished on the same appliance as the one used for WAN optimization in each office.”

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.