App acceleration for mobile users

* Acceleration has reached mobile laptops: are smartphones far behind?

An enterprise application on a mobile laptop not attached directly to the corporate LAN can perform abysmally without a bit of technical trickery. Companies such as Blue Coat, Cisco and Riverbed are prominent companies that boost application response times across the WAN, not only to users in branch offices but to mobile users, as well. (Compare Application Acceleration and WAN Traffic Optimization products)

These companies are known for their appliances with sophisticated data-streamlining capabilities. Their traditional devices sit at each end of a WAN connection (one in the data center and one in the branch, for example) to reduce delays. During the past 18 months, the vendors have begun offering laptop client acceleration software that emulates the appliance functions. The software keeps response times optimal even when users are away from the office appliance and communicating directly to application servers over cellular or other comparatively skinny links.

Blue Coat last week said it has enhanced its mobile client acceleration software with Web filtering capabilities, delivered as a service from Blue Coat’s network operations center (NOC). The software accommodates IT departments that allow split tunneling, whereby a user connects directly to the Internet rather than back to the data center first where filtering would be applied. In this way, it enforces a company’s security policies on Internet-connected laptops, explains company spokesman Steve Schick.

Application acceleration techniques include object and byte caching, general and data-specific compression, TCP spoofing and application-specific optimizations. On the application side, BlueCoat ProxyClient, Cisco Wide-Area Application Services (WAAS) Mobile, and Riverbed Steelhead Mobile client software all reduce the number of messages and acknowledgements passed back and forth across the network for Microsoft Windows Common Internet File System (CIFS) to improve file access times by about 25 to 30 times.

Cisco and Riverbed also accelerate the Microsoft Windows Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) and Exchange applications. In addition, Cisco accelerates SSL and IBM Lotus Notes applications, says product marketing manager Feng Meng.

What about smartphones and other small devices? They need more storage to accommodate resident data stores, says Joe Ghory, mobile marketing manager at Riverbed, who adds that the company “recognizes smartphones as an exciting part of the marketplace.”

Blue Coat keeps its data stores in its NOC, rather than in client software. Schick, too, says his company’s biggest focus is currently on improving file access times for mobile laptops. But “it’s definitely feasible to develop acceleration for handsets,” he says.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.