Gear makers bundle network optimization features

* Vendors bundling more optimization options, service providers prepping more managed offerings

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The desire to improve application performance over the WAN is driving the industry to add optimization features to all sorts of IT gear and services, from switches and specialized hardware devices to operating system software and content delivery services.

Enterprise customers with increasingly distributed work environments are driving demand for these latest application acceleration and network optimization capabilities. Ready to deliver are all sorts of vendors, including specialists such as F5 Networks and Juniper Networks; start-ups such as Exinda Networks and Strangeloop Networks; and IT veterans such as Cisco and Microsoft. For IT buyers, keeping all the players and technologies straight is no easy task.

As part of our New Data Center series, Network World published a collection of stories focused on network optimization technologies, trends and tactics. You can find the entire collection here. In addition, I wanted to share a few observations that struck me when I read the series.

1. Extras galore. Among the more popular add-ons to traditional WAN optimization wares is performance management functionality. When vendors bundle these functions in the same gear, enterprises can not only optimize their WAN bandwidth but also identify trouble spots when performance of a particular application degrades. This reduces dependency on stand-alone network monitoring software and makes it possible to more tightly integrate network analysis and performance optimization efforts.

2. Vista reality check. The much-anticipated performance enhancements in Microsoft’s Vista client operating system software will, for the most part, require hardware upgrades. For example, the Common Internet File System (CIFS) implementation in Vista supports Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) 2.0 protocol, which has been redesigned to reduce the number of round trips between a client and server and support larger buffer sizes. But taking advantage of the improvements requires Vista clients and Longhorn servers to be at both ends of a WAN link.

3. A caution about carrier services. Making the decision to go with a third-party’s managed service - for security, storage, collaboration or disaster recovery, for example - means an enterprise won’t have the infrastructure or staff in-house to immediately provide the same functions should their relationship with a service provider falter. For this reason, many enterprises avoid using third-party providers for mission-critical services. One key to alleviating the uncertainty is a greater number of offerings available from service providers. Fortunately, that’s the direction the market is going in. As competition heats up, enterprises will be able to rest easier knowing if their incumbent carrier raises its prices or goes out of business, there will be others available to bail them out. More options will also mean more competitive pricing for buyers.

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