Applications have a need for WAN speed

Vendors are loading their gear with new features, but the core need for WAN speed should still guide WOC buying decisions, says one expert in a live Network World chat.

Vendors are loading their gear with new features, but the core need for WAN speed should still guide WOC buying decisions. Application performance management and WAN acceleration are hard problems to solve and are part of a market segment loaded with vendor mythology from players like Cisco, Riverbed, Blue Coat, Sliver Peak Systems and others. Dr. Jim Metzler answers attendees questions in this live Network World chat.

Application performance management and WAN acceleration are hard problems to solve and are part of a market segment loaded with vendor mythology from players like Cisco, Riverbed, Blue Coat, Sliver Peak Systems and others. Recently Dr. Jim Metzler was the guest for a live Network World chat. Widely known as one of the industry's foremost gurus of WAN acceleration, Jim is also a sought-after speaker and consultant. He has logged over 28 years of experience with network technology and its business applications. Jim is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, co-author of Network World's Wide Area Networking newsletter, and the moderator for the Network & Application Acceleration track at Network World's traveling event, IT Roadmap. What follows is the full transcript of the chat.

Jim_Metzler: Hello - welcome everybody!

WAN_MAN: Hi Jim: what question should be asked of vendors when evaluating products that people typically don't ask?

Jim_Metzler: People should ask their vendors about what has gone wrong in previous deployments. We have all been around long enough to know that things do tend to go wrong at least occasionally. For example, some people have found that once they deploy a WAN optimization controller (WOC) that they lose management visibility. [Editor's note: compare application optimization technologies via Network World's Buyer's Guides.]

Cognoid: How does the BlueCoat WAFS compete now that they have acquired Packeteer?

Jim_Metzler: This is a fascinating question. Some people look at this acquisition as a sign of industry consolidation. I don't. I see that the major players in the application delivery market have very different approaches. Blue Coat traditionally had a focus on security. The acquisition of Packeteer gives them yet additional information on applications which I believe they will use for both optimization and security. In contrast, you don't see a vendor like Riverbed talking as much about security. They have, however, recently begun to talk about storage.

Moderator-Julie: While Jim is typing the answers to your questions, I will post the answer to some sent in earlier. Pre-submitted question: We are constantly battling latency across our MPLS network. We have retail stores that connect to the HQ data center. How do we improve WAN performance? Do we need to implement QoS? Should we use a different WAN protocol for our Cisco routers?

Jim_Metzler: MPLS comes with service classes that promise guaranteed latency limits. For example, a given service class may promise that latency will not exceed 50 ms. If your problem is that you are not getting what you were promised, that is an issue to take up with your vendor or, based on your contract, to possibly change vendors. If the issue is that the latency limits that you are promised is not good enough, I need to know more about what the problem is. For example, if the issue is that you are running chatty protocols over the WAN, then a WAN optimization appliance might be helpful.

enric: Hi, how do WAN optimization technologies fit into a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) oriented desktop/branch and/or with XML oriented apps?

Jim_Metzler: The movement to implement virtual desktops is a bit behind the movement to deploy virtual servers. As we deploy more virtual desktops, that will mean more traffic from the data center to the branch which will most likely need optimization. Jim, can you explain what you mean when you referred to different approaches by the vendors and that BlueCoat is using the security angle?

Jim_Metzler: Sure - Blue Coat will focus on security and a deep understanding of applications. Riverbed is moving into applying similar technology to what they currently have in the storage space. Foundry comes from a great knowledge of networking and is moving into applications. One of F5's strengths is their knowledge of applications, but they do not have a background in networking. Cisco is the networking leader and always focuses on how their WAN optimization controllers (WOCs) integrate well with the network. Citrix has a broad range of solutions that focus on application delivery - starting with their core presentation server. It is also worth remembering the Citrix is basically a software company and many of their competitors are basically hardware companies. The bottom line to all of this is that I don't see this market becoming a commodity any time soon.

Stefan Gasteiger: Jim, I'm not deep into WAN acceleration, but how does it fit into scenarios with heavy ICA traffic or Notes replication traffic?

Jim_Metzler: WAN acceleration is a very broad topic. Some applications (CIFS traffic that results from server consolidation) scream out for optimization. Other traffic (VoIP) requires QoS so that other traffic (bulk file transfers) do not interfere with it. The bottom line is that there are differing traffic types and they often require differing techniques.

enric: Are today's WOC players fitting the real customers demands? And how are the service providers approaching this?

Jim_Metzler: This is also a multi-faceted question. I believe that the WOC players are filling real needs today. I say that in part because the deployment of these appliances is on the upswing. The question about service providers is fascinating. I believe that there is a role for service providers. For example, Akamai offers an Internet overlay service today to make the Internet perform more like a private WAN.

Others services providers (Orange) will basically install and manage WOCs on your premise. I think the service providers who win in this space offer a range of planning and design services and who also develop a deep understanding of the key applications (SharePoint, SAP, Oracle) and understand how to best optimize them.

Pancho: Hi Jim, Is there any company that has the best all around solution?

Jim_Metzler: No. Your question goes to one of the key challenges facing IT organizations today. A given supplier might have a great solution for data replication, but not so great for CIFS. Another vendor may have a great solution for CIFS, but not so much for data replication. This presents IT organizations with a challenge - what problems are they trying to solve today? Next year?

Moderator-Julie: Pre-submitted question: In all the live events you have moderated on this topic, and all the questions you have fielded, what question do you hear most about this product category?

Jim_Metzler: How do I get started with evaluating these products? What new directions are the gear vendors taking these products? With regards to WOCs, here's my thoughts:

* Adding support for specific applications such as SharePoint or SAP.

* Creating templates to make it easier for IT organizations to configure the device to support key applications

* Embracing virtualization

With regards Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs):

* Offering virtualized solutions

* Adding security functionality

* Adding functionality such as XML processing

* Integrating with Business Intelligence tools

You have to decide - do you choose the best solution to today's problem knowing that it might be sub-optimal for tomorrow's? The good news here is that over time the differences between the suppliers on common functionality (compression, caching, protocol acceleration) will diminish.

jc: Will a WAN optimization appliance improve any VoIP performance?

Jim_Metzler: You do not really want to accelerate VoIP. What you want to do is to implement QoS to make sure that other traffic does not interfere with VoIP. You can do this in a WOC.

WAN_MAN: We currently have 100+ PacketShapers deployed as well as a dozen Steelhead (Riverbed) devices. With the Blue Coat merger, we're thinking we're going to leverage the already deployed base of PacketShapers, rather than use both products. Riverbed wants to quote an "attractive" deal to completely replace our Shaper environment. Thoughts?

Jim_Metzler: You brought a smile to my face! I believe that contrary to some of the rumors, that Blue Coat will continue to invest in PacketShaper. That being said, I consider both Blue Coat and Riverbed to be good companies. You need to compare the attractive offer that you get from Riverbed to what your future is likely to be with Blue Coat. You might also want to look more broadly at each company because if you use one for WAN optimization, there will be the tendency to use them for more of what they offer.

Tredant: Jim, Will we see WAN optimization vendors addressing UDP for video traffic anytime soon?

Jim_Metzler: I have not heard anybody really discuss focusing on UDP. As you know, it is a pretty light weight protocol. One of Silver Peak's marketing messages is that since it functions at the IP layer, it optimizes all transport protocols including UDP. That being said, I tend to think of video as I do VoIP - that it mainly requires good QoS.

Gegorge: Regarding your comment on not using WOCs for VoIP, is that because VoIP is not optimizable with current technology?

Jim_Metzler: Not really that. It is just that if you and I were talking and the sound of my voice got to you twice as fast, unless you buffered it to play it back at a normal rate, it would sound strange.

Josh.H: Jim, do you see distinct advantages to implementing QoS in a WOC rather than the router level? Not all my sites will be optimized.

Jim_Metzler: This is a really fundamental question. I believe that one of the reasons that we have not implemented WOCs more broadly is that we have not answered some basic questions such as what functionality should be done where. This question is further blurred by the fact that WOCs are being integrated into routers making it tough to say where QoS was implemented. The bottom line is that I think you can make either approach work. It comes down to factors such as how rich is the QoS functionality in the WOC and how easy is it to configure and manage the QoS functionality in the WOC or the router.

Moderator-Julie: Pre-submitted question: Some users claim that acceleration claims made by the vendors are bogus ... that claims of 400% improvements are marketing garbage (as you can't improve speed faster than the original base speed). What are your thoughts on speed claims by vendors?

Jim_Metzler: The acceleration claims made by the vendors represent a test done in a laboratory. While these might give some insight into how the devices will perform in production networks, they are not definitive. IT organizations must test the devices in their network to understand what type of improvements they will realize.

WAN_MAN: To your point on my earlier question about staying with PacketShapers or replacing with Steelhead and looking more broadly at the companies ... I've thought for quite some time that Riverbed was primed for acquisition - and yes - I mean by Cisco - yet it hasn't happened. Thoughts?

Jim_Metzler: Riverbed's market capitalization is around 2 or 3 billion. Cisco has certainly made acquisitions of that size before. However, Cisco has gained significant market share with their current products so I doubt that they will spend billions to acquire Riverbed and then have to rationalize their product line.

Gegorge: Early on, you mentioned that Riverbed has begun to talk about storage. What do you mean by this?

Jim_Metzler: Applying technologies such as de-duplication to reduce storage requirements.

JohhnyB: Jim: are any of these vendors really ready for data center to data center acceleration? Each has limitations and none can handle gig speeds

Jim_Metzler: Silver Peak focuses on this market segment.

Natick: Hi Jim, for just data replication between branch offices to the HQ site, what vendor would you choose?

Jim_Metzler: Very difficult question. As I mentioned earlier, this is a focus of Silver Peak, but many vendors state that their solution will support data replication. My general advice on choosing a WOC or an ADC is to review the vendor's collateral and then choose a small set of vendors whose products you trail in your environment. This approach will allow you to choose the "best product." I put that in quotes because best could be the one that gives the most improvement, the one that gives the best improvement per dollar spent, etc.

In addition, this approach will put you in a position to be able to let management know in advance what the cost of deployment will be and what improvements they can expect. That last point is critical. I think that all of us need to continually build creditability. Part of that in this case is knowing in advance what the improvements will be and hence not over promising and under delivering. I wrote a document entitled "The 2008 Application Delivery Handbook." [Editor's note: the document is hosted at, and registration required.] In it, I list decision criteria for both WOCs and ADCs.

enric: Where is the next big thing with this market, onto security or onto storage or something else?

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