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Cisco's WAAS Appeal: 5x Bandwidth, 3x User Increases

Cisco is refreshing its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) appliances for WAN applications. The company says the number of Internet-based applications is expected to reach 1 million this decade, and it wants to help customers scale the delivery of rising volumes of applications and video traffic across networks to any user and device. The new solutions will "substantially" improve application performance and user experience by providing up to five times the bandwidth and supporting up to three times the users, compared to the previous generation, as well as reduce the hardware required by 66%.

There are fundamental changes reshaping the network infrastructure, says Cisco. Seventy-nine percent of organizations have adopted software as a service (SaaS); 66% have adopted video; 90% will adopt a bring-your-own device (BYOD) model by 2014; and 25 billion devices and 7.2 billion people will be connected to the Internet by 2015. As such, WAN optimization will become even more important.

Supporting both branch and data center deployments, the Cisco 294, 594 and 694 appliances enable branch offices to deploy up to eight virtual services, such as video, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Windows on WAAS, with five times the throughput. The Cisco 694, 7541, 7571 and 8541 appliances provide large branch offices and data centers with what has been called the industry's most scalable 10 Gbit Ethernet-capable WAN optimization solution. The company is also announcing new software, WAAS v4.4, which brings together application and network optimization with Context-Aware Data Redundancy Elimination (DRE), doubling the effective throughput of those systems without decreasing the overall experience to any location.

Cisco expects the new appliances to appeal not only to current customers who won't have to rip and replace their existing solutions, but also to organizations that have yet to embrace WAN optimization. It will also appeal to organizations whose point solutions are not working at scale, says the company.

This round of WAN optimization improvements makes Cisco much more competitive in the market, giving it an edge in new RFPs or greenfield opportunities (as well as among its installed base) where that kind of capacity is required, and where enterprises are struggling with the increased demands placed on WANs by the BYOD phenomenon and increased use of video, agrees Paula Musich, senior analyst, Current Analysis. However, there are other considerations when it comes to moving from one WAN optimization supplier to another, she cautions.

"There's a lot of expertise invested in deploying and managing the overlay networks that WAN optimization deployments represent," Musich says. "Any enterprise that has a significant WAN optimization deployment already in place would have to think long and hard about switching suppliers. It would be a more complex business case to make to switch suppliers."

Musich gives Cisco full marks from a performance perspective: 2 Gbps of optimized WAN capacity and up to 150,000 TCP connections. "Market leader Riverbed in its Steelhead 7050 appliance--their largest--claims it can scale to 1 Gbps of optimized WAN capacity and 100,000 optimized TCP connections. So Cisco supports twice the WAN capacity of the market leader and 50% more TCP connections in a single appliance. That helps to lower costs by requiring fewer appliances to scale to that level of capacity in large data centers."

IDC analyst Rohit Mehra, director, enterprise communications infrastructure, also credits Cisco for its improvements in raw performance but has his own concerns. "I think the best approach is to evaluate performance of WAN application delivery solution(s) in actual enterprise deployments, which can vary based on several factors including applications, infrastructure and network design."

He adds that the market for WAN application delivery is growing rapidly and is pretty dynamic, so enterprise IT does have a shorter buying cycle for these solutions compared to traditional networking equipment. "With its revamped WAAS portfolio, Cisco does have an opportunity to go out and improve its competitive positioning in the market."

Hear what your peers think about WAN optimization vendors, check out our IT Pro Ranking: WAN Optimization Appliances [registration required].