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WAN Optimization Helps Networks 'Evolve'

Networks are asked to do a lot these days--from moving video and voice to connecting mobile devices to delivering applications through a browser--but the basic architecture of a WAN hasn’t changed much over time, says analyst Zeus Kerravala. Enter WAN optimization, whose goal is to improve performance to deliver apps from the cloud that look as good and perform as if they were natively installed on the endpoint device.

Networks are asked to do a lot these days--from moving video and voice to connecting mobile devices to delivering applications through a browser--but the basic architecture of a WAN hasn’t changed much over time, says analyst Zeus Kerravala. Enter WAN optimization, whose goal is to improve performance to deliver apps from the cloud that look as good and perform as if they were natively installed on the end-point device.

"Most WANs are still built off of that traditional hub-and-spoke architecture," says Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research. "It was really meant for client-server traffic ... but, today, when you look at the direction of cloud computing, you would expect the network to evolve with it, and I don’t think that’s happening."

WANs are also considerably slower than LANs, he adds, and WAN optimization in its original form was about acceleration of apps like Microsoft Windows or Exchange, which he refers to as non-real-time traffic. In today’s WAN environment, the network is also tasked with delivering real-time traffic such as videoconferencing, voice over IP (VoIP) or a virtual desktop image. With those, acceleration is irrelevant.

"You can’t really accelerate real-time traffic. You can’t hear me before I talk," Kerravala says.

WAN optimization in the virtualization/cloud computing/videoconferening/mobile era is all about delivering Quality of Service (QoS). If the image on a video meeting is choppy, the sound of a VoIP call is garbled or the delivery of a virtual desktop is slow, the QoS is poor.

In this third part of a three-part series on WAN optimization, Network Computing looks at WAN optimization as a way to ensure quality application delivery. In the first part of this series we looked at visibility tools, and in the second we examined WAN security.

Kerravala gave a shout-out to Akamai and Riverbed Technology for their partnership, announced in late February, to address the serious latency problem in software-as-a-service (SaaS)-delivered applications. In a demonstration at a media event, executives of each company showed that a Microsoft Office app installed on a corporate network took 2 seconds to open but 2 minutes to open from a SaaS provider using Office 365.

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