Lately, we've covered some considerations surrounding branch office uptime and productivity. Users - wherever they happen to be located - are likely expected to be equally as productive as their head-office counterparts. So downtime, poor-performing applications or limited access to key business software just don't cut it.First and foremost, ensuring a parity of network services to distributed users means reliable network connectivity and WAN access router uptime for gaining access to central resources. We've addressed these issues from a data perspective recently in some articles on high-availability (uptime) options for branch offices.Once you've made sure that data-network connectivity is reinforced using back-up or dual-homed links and possibly redundant, hot-standby routers, what other things should you consider?Web-based application performance is likely one. Local caching and WAN compression can play a significant role in making Web-based applications scale and perform well at distributed remote sites. These capabilities are available in appliance-type form factors (sometimes called "cache servers") or as WAN access router modules.These products store content locally to accelerate performance while continually synchronizing data with central IT servers in background mode. Only the pieces of data that actually change traverse the WAN connection behind the scenes. So synchronization takes place continually but doesn't gobble up all the bandwidth on the relatively limited-speed WAN access links.Traditionally, caching (part of a bigger set of products and services often called a "content delivery network") is used to accelerate the performance of Web sites and streaming audio and video. But there is no reason that the same capabilities can't be applied to enhancing the distributed computing experience for remote workers. Vendors such as Cisco, F5 Networks, Nortel, Radware and Volera offer caching products.\u00a0 (This is not an exhaustive list; however, vendor acquisitions and changing business models makes us hesitate to name other players in this brief look at caching.)If you are a Cisco shop, cache modules are available for some of the company's WAN access routers, which can save on capital costs and management. Cisco invented a protocol for its IOS routing software called the Web Cache Communications Protocol, which is said to further improve upon the performance benefits of Web caching by intelligently distributing traffic loads across multiple caches.