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WAN optimisation goes virtual

While the benefits of WAN optimisation are well documented-better application performance, cost reductions and bandwidth savings, to name a few- many users aren’t still sure how does it work in highly virtualised and cloud environments. How will network integrated services such as WAN optimisation fit into the cloud model? The initial indications are that WAN optimisation will play an important role as companies migrate their applications and services to the cloud. But some burning questions still remain. Will users continue to be separated from compute and storage resources by bandwidth/latency constrained WANs? What new challenges will integrating WAN optimisation into cloud bring?

“Cloud computing and virtualisation represent a new way to deliver and use services on a shared IT infrastructure. Previously, applications and hardware were linked, and applications were resident on specifically designated hardware for compute and storage. With cloud computing and virtualisation, the functionality of these same software and hardware products is delivered in a more scalable fashion as services over a network. This also affects the way WAN optimisation services now need to be deployed over a virtualised infrastructure,” says Tarek Abbas, Systems Engineering Director, Juniper Networks.

Nigel Ashworth, EMEA Solution Architect, F5 Networks, adds that as enterprise look at internal and external cloud services, there is a major requirement to smoothly move servers and services between clouds. “The live migration of these services over the wide area links, which commonly are lower speed and naturally suffer from latency, means that WAN optimisation services will be an integral part of the enterprise’s cloud computing services.”

Nigel Hawthorn, VP of EMEA Marketing, Blue Coat Systems, offers another perspective on the impact of virtualisation and cloud on the WAN optimisation landscape: “Virtualisation is a technology that enables consolidation of data and services into a smaller number of platforms and cloud computing delivers data from outside the corporate network hosted somewhere on the Internet. Both of these technologies tend to move data away from the users therefore the WAN becomes a crucial part of the delivery infrastructure. WAN optimisation adoption is, therefore, likely to increase as organisations require a powerful technology ensuring fast delivery of data and bandwidth reductions.”

The case for virtualised WOCs

One of the concepts that is typically associated with cloud computing is the dynamic provisioning of virtual machines. While this might sound like a simple concept, it is not. If IT organisations are going to successfully provision virtual machines dynamically, they also need to be able to dynamically provision all of the supporting infrastructure, including Wan Optimisation Controllers (WOCs). This is not possible with the traditional hardware based appliance. The ability to dynamically provision WOCs requires the deployment of virtual WOCs.

“There is a strong case for virtualised WAN optimisation controllers that offer a suite of services. This “pick and mix” approach allows simple installation and management of remote branches. The key to this is effective management or what we describe as “WAN governance” This allows critical applications to be prioritised, and also enables the successful delivery of SLAs. It also allows the IT department to start cross-charging services more effectively, which businesses are increasingly asking for,” says Peter Job, CEO of Intergence Systems.

Abbas from Juniper agrees: “ WAN optimisation virtualisation is going to emerge as a consequence for moving into cloud computing infrastructures, a case at hand would be to deliver WAN optimisation clients to the end user machines over the cloud in a seamless and transparent matter. Virtualised WAN optimisation services would also mean higher scalability as such solutions will need to scale to support multiple customer needs over the cloud infrastructure.”

One of the potential downsides of a virtual WOC is performance. The conventional wisdom in the industry is that a solution based on dedicated, purpose-built hardware performs better than a solution in which software is running on a generic piece of hardware, particularly if that hardware is supporting multiple applications. However, conventional wisdom is often wrong and IT organisations need to test the performance of a virtual WOC in their environment prior to determining if a virtual WOC is an appropriate solution.

Virtual WOCs have the potential to disrupt the WOC market. For example, an advantage of virtual WOCs is that it is notably easier to download a virtual WOC than it is to ship a traditional hardware based appliance. This means that it is possible for WOC vendors to let users download and use a virtual WOC free of charge for some period of time. The motivation to do this on the part of the WOC vendor is that if the WOC improves network and application performance, the user is in position to build the business case to acquire the WOC. In addition, it is reasonable to expect that in 2010 at least some of the WOC vendors that have a small market share will aggressively price their virtual WOCs as a way to gain market share. This will put pressure on the WOC vendors that have the significant market share to respond.

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