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WAN Optimization: Adoption Holds Steady, Despite Advances

The notion of converged services along with distributed workforces and the buzz around private clouds have created a perfect storm of stress on the WAN. Are optimization appliances the answer?

Data loss may be unavoidable on a WAN, but that doesn't mean you have to accept it sitting down. In particular, the increasing volume of voice and video services, enormous digital files, and critical enterprise applications moving across wide area pipes has some IT organizations we work with scrambling to maximize performance.

"Video distribution is a big concern," says Steve Clarke, a senior technical adviser with health benefits provider WellPoint. "I'm constantly getting questions about distributing video internally but have to hold people back because we're afraid of what it will do to the WAN." WellPoint is also interested in improving network performance for a growing number of home workers. Increasing capacity is a possibility, but it's expensive, as is the effort to provision WAN links--and adding more bandwidth is no guarantee of improvement.

These WAN concerns prompted us to take a snapshot of current attitudes toward WAN optimization appliances. In October 2008, 344 business technology professionals responded to our first InformationWeek Analytics WAN Optimization Survey; in February 2010, 585 weighed in. Results show an increasingly mature market, with IT generally accepting the usefulness of the technology but still looking for ways to apply it effectively.

As for drivers, improved client-server application performance is by far the top reason for adopting WAN optimization technology today; it's cited by 74% of the 2010 survey respondents using these products. Because WAN optimization systems use data compression and deduplication to decrease the volume of bits sent over the WAN, applications become more responsive; protocol optimization can also reduce the amount of back-and-forth chatter. Another trend favoring this technology is our growing reliance on WANs to connect geographically dispersed offices and people. Remote users are just as demanding of snappy application response as those in HQ.

Cloud And The WAN

One intriguing question we hoped to answer with this poll is the impact that public cloud services and software as a service (SaaS) will have on WAN optimization technology. IT must control both ends of the network for WAN optimization--clearly not the case in a SaaS or public cloud environment--so we wondered whether these models could derail the growth of WAN optimization technology.

Not so far, anyway. That's mostly because, despite feverish marketing hype, enterprise IT's move to cloud computing has been slow. CIOs are cautious, in part because of concerns over security and highly publicized service failures. Nearly half, 47%, of those poll respondents using WAN optimization say they don't yet use any cloud-based services, while 24% say they expect public clouds will have an insignificant impact in their organizations. A mere 9% say that they'll rely less on WAN optimization as a result of public cloud use.

Short term, we do expect adoption of SaaS to pick up in enterprises. In our November 2009 InformationWeek Analytics SaaS Survey of 281 business technologists, about one-third of the 131 respondents using SaaS describe these apps as mission critical. Tellingly, when we asked who is advocating for SaaS in the enterprise, 54% say line-of-business or C-level execs are driving the decision to buy these services.

InformationWeek: June 7, 2010 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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Adoption Holds Steady

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