Virtual appliances are a relatively new option for customers buying network systems such as firewalls, load balancers and WAN optimization products. Like a physical appliance, virtual appliances are fairly simple to deploy, and because they're just software, vendors often make it easy for customers to try a product before they buy it. Now these virtual appliances are also being bundled for public clouds.
This week, Silver Peak announced version 6.0 of Virtual Acceleration Open Architecture (VXOA), its WAN optimization software for virtual and physical platforms. The new release touts several enhancements, such as the ability to run on multiple hypervisors, including Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Xen and KVM. The software already supported VMware vSphere.
VXOA 6.0 also adds support for applications provisioned to the Amazon Web Services public cloud. Silver Peak created an Amazon Machine Interface (AMI) wrapper in VXOA 6.0 so that WAN optimization can be virtually deployed with the application inside Amazon's network. WAN optimization products require an appliance on each side of the data center, which means Silver Peak customers can now enable WAN optimization from their own data center to the Amazon cloud. Amazon Web Services currently is the only public cloud environment that VXOA 6.0 supports.
It's often forgotten in the rush to the public cloud, but TCP/IP doesn't handle packet loss on the WAN very well. For these and other reasons, companies that rely heavily on WAN traffic will often turn to WAN optimization, which can improve application performance by using techniques such as compression, to decrease the volume of bits sent over the WAN; and protocol optimization, which reduces the amount of back-and-forth chatter.
Silver Peak isn't the only vendor packaging its software for the public cloud. Last week, F5 announced that its Big-IP platform would be available to run as an Amazon AMI starting at the end of the month. As with Silver Peak, F5 customers license a virtual version of Big-IP and deploy it within an Amazon instance. Because BIG-IP for AWS will have equivalent features to physical BIG-IP devices, customers can establish secure tunnels, burst to the cloud, and control the application from end to end.
Riverbed also offers virtual appliances and cloud-based options, including Cloud Steelhead and the Stingray application delivery controller, which is available in AWS. Certeon, Replify and Netex are other WAN optimization vendors that offer software-based WAN optimization, with a focus on the VMware hypervisor.
The move from physical to virtual appliances, whether on premises or in a public cloud, is a significant market shift that offers organizations a lot more flexibility in the deployment and management of network services. Everyone hates deploying and maintaining more hardware in the network. While initially easy to deploy, the ongoing maintenance and operating costs of physical appliances can be substantial over time, in addition to the effort to upgrade them. In large enterprises, with many distributed locations, it's even harder to manage the configuration of physical appliances.
In addition, companies are beginning to realize that virtual appliances provide more flexible deployment options, and may be cheaper for organizations that now can move virtual appliances to trouble spots instead of permanently deploying physical appliances at every end point. And as companies get more comfortable with virtualization, the move to a virtual appliance isn't so dramatic.
Silver Peak CEO Rick Tinsley says that only about 20% of the company's customers use the virtual appliances. However, he does expect that the marketplace for virtual WAN optimization appliances will eventually reach parity with their physical counterparts.