Application-acceleration vendors need to squeeze more capabilities into fewer products, make them work better together, and pay more attention to security and standards.That was the consensus of participants in an online forum that Network World hosted on the market segment last week (and that remains active. Four vendors - Cisco, Citrix Systems, Packeteer and SilverPeak Systems - launched the discussion and a handful of others chimed in, addressing customer questions and debating topics ranging from hot technologies such as wide-area file services (WAFS) and SSL acceleration to best practices on incorporating acceleration tools into existing routing and QoS efforts.This comment by one anonymous poster summed up the frustration felt by some customers: "The WAN-accelerator market is awash in jargon, apparently designed to prevent me from comparing apples to apples (think of Molecular Sequence Reduction vs. Scalable Data Reduction vs. File-aware Differencing). The lack of standard terminology is now working against newcomers."Vendors generally agreed that the market is confusing, given there are multiple tools featuring technologies such as compression, caching, TCP acceleration, data reduction and packet shaping. But they also agreed that a variety of tools are needed today to speed traffic to remote and branch offices, and that consolidation of these technologies will happen over time. One vendor warned customers not to get bogged down with buzzwords, saying that ultimately application-acceleration technologies need to be tailored to specific business needs.DAVE ASPREY,Application Networking Group"The best overall investment is the one that provides enough acceleration with the lowest cost of acquisition, deployment and ongoing operations" said Dave Asprey, director of product management in the Application Networking Group (formerly NetScaler) at Citrix Systems.Customer concernsMany customers said they are taking a wait-and-see approach, using existing tools and watching newcomers closely, given the consolidation that has started to take place among vendors."Some of the applications that are WAN-hostile [Microsoft's Messaging API and SQL] or at least difficult [Microsoft's Common Internet File System, or CIFS, and Network File System, or NFS] are being fixed or replaced," one network engineer said. "Will we see partnerships between application vendors and accelerator vendors, interoperability between vendors, standards, or will they just disappear as the technology moves into the routers and servers?"Customers also voiced concern about the financial and management burden of deploying best-of-breed boxes at distributed locations. Many acceleration products require that an appliance be installed in the data center and in every remote or branch location. Others, such as Stampede Technologies, use a combination of appliances with software distributed to remote clients."We have 12 locations, 11 remote. At each location, there is a very small amount of files, say under 20 Excel and Word [files], which we would like to have quick access to from any location to view or edit," one forum member explained. "We only have one or two users at each location, so having to buy a box for each location becomes expensive."Another network professional urged vendors to provide acceleration capabilities to home office, mobile or VPN-connected users. Customers can invest in VPNs with acceleration technology built in from, say, Citrix, or contract a service such as Internap's, but many inquired about development efforts among vendors for more software-based acceleration tools.One issue that seemed to stump most vendors involved accelerating encrypted traffic. Often the technology disregards encrypted traffic and passes it through untouched, because acceleration tools need to see the payload to accelerate the traffic, and to do that they also need to unencrypt it, according to one online poster.Market maturityGartner estimates that the market for application-acceleration products reached $1.5 billion last year, a 33% increase over 2004. It estimates that by 2009 the market will reach about $2.3 billion in user sales. As the market for such tools grows, it also is reaching its second phase, industry watchers say. That means best-of-breed providers are starting to focus more on selling systems that can perform more than one acceleration task.For example, Allot Communications last week introduced a centralized management console for its NetEnforcer bandwidth, traffic and QoS management appliances. Expand Networks, Packeteer, Peribit and others also augment their acceleration devices with management software.MARK URBAN,Packeteer"The combination into one system simplifies the configuration, use and management, and arms the network experts with the ability to find, fix and optimize all types of issues more quickly," said Mark Urban, director of product marketing at Packeteer.Newer acceleration technologies also are being brought into vendors' product suites. F5 Networks last month incorporated WAFS technology into its WANJet appliances, and Expand Networks last year included the capabilities in product upgrades. WAFS works by reducing the "chattiness" of CIFS and NFS protocols. It also is designed to decrease latency.BARUCH DEUTSCH,CiscoAcquisitions - such as Juniper Networks' buys of Peribit Networks and Redline Networks, Cisco's acquisitions of Actona Technologies and FineGround Networks, F5 Networks' grab of Swan Labs and Citrix's purchase of NetScaler - have made it possible for vendors to jam technologies into one device."What we will likely start to see is WAN-optimization capabilities integrated into the network fabric. The network will become more intelligent and application-aware," said Baruch Deutsch, director of product marketing for Application Networking at Cisco. "Expect to see networking devices that can understand and efficiently handle higher-level protocols and optimize application performance."CRAIG STOUFFER,SilverPeak SystemsSmaller companies such as SilverPeak Systems and Blue Coat Systems countered that boundaries will continue to exist between network plumbing and applications."We don't see [router integration] happening fully for the rest of the decade, at least in the branch office," said Craig Stouffer, vice president of worldwide marketing at SilverPeak Systems.