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The WAN plan

NWME: What do you think will be the biggest technology and industry trends to watch – specific to the WAN optimisation market — during the year ahead?

Hawthorn: WAN optimisation is quickly moving from a new leading-edge technology to a key part of organsations’ infrastructure. Vendors need to keep innovating to deliver what customers need. Not long ago, a WAN optimisation system that was just delivering optimisation of internal (mainly-Microsoft) applications was enough – and a number of vendors introduced products that delivered scalability up to larger bandwidth. Today, you can see the market maturing as customers are demanding five things from vendors. First is the optimization of other applications such as streaming media, SSL-encrypted traffic, a huge range of browser-based applications and SaaS. Scalability down to smaller offices, delivering WAN optimisation at lower prices is also one of the criteria. Users are looking for global management systems that can deliver reporting and configuration of hundreds of applications, and innovative delivery mechanisms, such as virtual appliances running on industry-standard software. With IT resources being consolidated and employees becoming more mobile, users demand the ability to extend optimisation to the ultimate end-point – the travelling user. So, vendors unable to deliver on these five areas are finding it increasingly difficult to compete as the end users’ demands grow.

NWME: Is WAN optimisation becoming just an element of larger application-delivery scheme?

Hawthorn: Yes. WAN optimisation is only part of the application delivery story. First-generation WAN optimisation appliances would simply try to accelerate everything that they understood, sometimes delivering faster spam and faster malware around the organisation. Smarter, second-generation WAN optimisation systems can decide which data should be optimised, which techniques to use and how to deliver that optimisation. Should I spend computing resources optimising social networking sites, or spend that processing power just on business critical applications? In addition, WAN optimisation is increasingly merged with security – if the same device making WAN optimisation decisions can block or bandwidth manage the data based on intelligent policies, then the customer receives two benefits, reducing overall networking costs.

NWME: Do you think visibility of all applications on the network is the key to improve performance?

Hawthorn: Absolutely. Visibility lets us make the decisions we need to. Visibility of users, applications, protocols and the correlation of this information allows smarter decision-making. Let’s take an example of SSL-encrypted traffic to external servers. This could be to a Web-based e-mail service, to a hosted SaaS application such as Salesforce.com or a way a user is trying to hide inappropriate traffic. A smart application delivery solution should be able to decrypt that traffic, look at the user, the destination and the content and make the appropriate decisions – only with full visibility can we achieve this, then the solution is really providing business benefits and not just acting as a sticking plaster trying to make decisions based on simple, global parameters.

NWME: Do you think the growing adoption of software-as-a-service and cloud-based services will require enterprises to rethink the way they deploy WAN optimisation solutions?

Hawthorn: Cloud-based services and SaaS deliver real cost-savings to organisations, allowing them to concentrate on their core businesses while sharing infrastructure, management and application costs with other companies. One drawback can be a centralisation of servers and services thus increasing the distance and therefore the latency for individual users accessing the service. Organisations can overcome this with WAN optimisation techniques.

NWME: How do you address the growth and challenge of video impacting branch offices. Should WAN optimisation solutions be able to help manage and optimise video traffic as a part of the overall application mix?

Hawthorn: We have seen a very large growth in video and audio streaming traffic over the last year, but not all streams are the same and should be treated in the same way as some streaming is for business and some is not. Firstly, customers need a solution that can differentiate between the different types of stream, perhaps by source such as internal, news, entertainment, sports, etc. Then the organisation should make a decision on its priorities and appropriate policies. Then solutions need to ensure that the business streams can be delivered without impacting the rest of the network traffic and the entertainment streams be restricted or even blocked completely, depending on business needs, time of day or other traffic patterns at the time. Happily this can be achieved for both live streams (breaking news, live events) and for on-demand streaming (news sites) with technologies such as stream splitting, stream caching, stream bandwidth management and stream blocking. I can anticipate the streaming problems worsening as events such as Formula1 and the World Cup being streamed over the Internet, without steam splitting and control, some networks will fail under the load of employees trying to keep up to date with the latest information.

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