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Do you WANt to optimise?

These solutions squeeze more out of WAN links by doing everything from eliminating redundant transmissions to staging data in local caches, compressing and prioritising data and streamlining chatty protocols.

IDC says the technologies can save companies tens of thousands of dollars per 100 users in hardware, software and bandwidth costs. Simultaneously, businesses can reduce IT operations costs and increase user productivity.

“Yes, we are seeing WAN optimisation gaining popularity as customers need to deliver data quickly to their remote and travelling users across the region. As organisations in the Middle East roll-out more web-based applications, deploy software-as-a-service, open up regional offices and centralise storage – their increasingly remote users are demanding fast and secure access to the organisation’s centralised data and the Internet. We are seeing this need for WAN optimisation migrating to include travelling users who require client software to run on their laptops to provide WAN optimisation and web security,” says Nigel Hawthorn, VP EMEA Marketing, Blue Coat Systems.

In use, WAN optimisation tools can speed up bulk data transfers to improve disaster recovery capabilities, improve response times for interactive applications such as databases, reduce bandwidth costs, and present the opportunity to centralise file storage and consolidate servers. Some analyst firms say the tools can decrease link utilisation 40% to 80% through caching and compression. Tack on the time-savings and flexibility that result from choosing optimisation over WAN replacement, and the return on investment (ROI) is readily apparent.

“In addition to saving bandwidth costs which represent a significant portion of operating expenditure, WAN optimisation helps customers to improve the performance of their business applications,” says Tarek Abbas, Sr. Systems Engineering Manager – Enterprise, Juniper Networks.

Users WANt to see the benefits

The improvements from optimisation are even visible to users who may not understand the technology behind it. Users may experience:

— Faster file accessibility: Due to caching, someone that utilises the same files repeatedly will be able to access them more quickly because only new data must be saved and retrieved, rather than having to reload the full document.

— Increased speed between multiple office locations: WAN solutions maximise network speed between remote locations, accelerating file transfers and network-based communications, such as e-mail.

— Improved performance of “non-affected” applications: Applications that are not directly affected by optimisation solutions appear to run more smoothly or faster because bandwidth previously used for other processes can now be dedicated to non-affected operations. For example, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other streaming media applications will operate more reliably.

— More reliable and faster data recovery: Crashed servers and applications can take a significant amount of time to recover. Optimisation's ability to increase network response time enables users to rapidly regain access to critical applications, increasing productivity.

IT pros WANt to know

WAN optimisation is just beginning to gain popularity, and as more IT executives start to consider it as an option they must assess their current capabilities and systems to determine if optimisation is the right path for their business.

First, assess the goals and needs of the network to determine the makeup of the traffic. Gauge the bandwidth needs of the network and if optimisation will free enough bandwidth to meet demands. Determine if the network needs to store localised files, if file caching is necessary, and establish a level of acceptable redundancy. Additional consideration should be given to the needs of each individual office, the affect optimisation may have on their business and the growth plan for several years into the future.

Once the network needs have been identified, size the appliances to meet the needs of the business, with the option for scalability. Optimisation appliances can meet the needs of any business, from engineering firms to financial institutions to advertising agencies, whether the organisation's goal is to access large files or to enable a large number of users.

“The main question customers ask is commonly “do I need a box at both ends”, which is basically asking whether an asymmetric or symmetric deployment is the right way to go. Assymmetric deployments – having an application delivery controller at only one end (the data centre) – allows for application optimisation for the end user without incurring remote end CAPEX costs for hardware, support and installation,” says Nigel Ashworth, Technical Director Middle East & Africa, F5 Networks.

Finally, implement the optimisation solution. While WAN optimisation solutions are not complex, they are not as easy to integrate as a typical switch or router. They are high-end appliances that must be implemented correctly in order to be effective. It is beneficial to seek vendor support for the implementation process, and many manufacturers offer full installation.

Hawthorn says Blue Coat and its team of highly trained channel partners provide recommendation, installation, configuration and management services to our customers. “Some customers prefer a managed service where all of the management is outsourced and we have managed service providers who can deliver in this way, too.”

Juniper does the same. “We work closely with our channel partners throughout and after the implementation process to ensure that end users are getting best-in-class services and support. We also offer full installation services through our highly skilled professional services team. We have also developed a special program called the WX QuickStart program that combines the onsite assistance of a Juniper Networks Professional Services expert knowledge transfer and 15 calendar days of post-installation deployment support,” says Abbas.

A few best practices to keep in mind throughout the selection and implementation process are:

— Determine what type of files and data make up the majority of your traffic: User Datagram Protocol files such as VoIP, Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP), and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) do not tend to benefit from WAN optimisation, but TCP and Common Internet File System — e-mail and file transfers — benefit greatly and tend to be the most common files.

— Test current network utilisation and capabilities: Determine how long it takes for a remote office to download a file from the central office, as well as if the backup window between data centers is too extensive. Decide if increasing bandwidth to enhance performance and decrease latency is necessary.

— Ensure vendors are aware of network goals and needs: This will help them to provide relevant and effective input and offer implementation support.

— Implement the WAN optimisation solution in stages: Take a phased approach to limit the risk to the network, and allow for test and reassurance measures throughout the process. A phased approach will also help identify additional applications that may benefit from optimisation.

— Develop security policies: If not already in place, develop security policies that clearly outline the access and use of data and disposal processes for sensitive information.

It is important for customers to make sure that the WAN optimisation solutions can provide WAN optimisation for as much of their data as possible. Some WAN optimisation products only optimise internal windows servers; some do not support optimisation for SSL-encrypted data (even though this is growing faster than any other data); some have no support for streaming; and many do not implement security along with optimisation and end up spending valuable resources accelerating spam, viruses, inappropriate traffic and spyware, adds Hawthorne.

WAN optimisation is a burgeoning technology that can help a wide range of organisations improve the efficiency of their networks, boosting performance and reducing costs. It can also assist companies that seek to enhance their sustainability efforts by consolidating servers and data centres and reducing power consumption and energy bills. WAN optimisation is a worthwhile investment yielding recognisable benefits any CIO can appreciate.

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