Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The Race To Optimize

The last month has seen a flurry of announcements as companies have raced to introduce products designed to make network links seem larger and applications faster without requiring new connections or servers. The products approach the issue from different directions, but looked at together, they illustrate an industry searching for ways to make the most of existing infrastructure while waiting and hoping for economic expansion to pick up once again.

If there's a "common thread" to the movement represented by the new product announcements, it's that IT departments are no longer content to look solely at "one size fits all" solutions to bandwidth optimization. While it's still possible to find products such as Riverbed's Steelhead appliance, which has a broad functional footprint, much of the industry's effort is now spent on more narrowly-focused solutions. Exinda, for example, recently released the 8760, aimed at backbone networks with multi-gigabyte native performance. Riverbed Steelhead Mobile 3.0 targets the growing number of users accessing mission-critical applications via wireless network links, and Folder Maestro focuses on non-streaming, traditional files.

Does this new direction mean that companies will be forced to deploy multiple network optimization products to create a single integrated solution? Not necessarily, though networks that incorporate more than one network optimization technology will almost certainly become far more common in the years ahead. Instead, I believe companies will be looking much more closely at applications and aspects of network performance that are considered critical, and focus their optimization efforts there. For some, the key will be link reduction, as they attempt to reduce costs by consolidating multiple T1 or T3 lines into single WAN connections. For others, the critical consideration will be the performance of a single enterprise application (or suite of applications), regardless of how the application is accessed or where the user is physically working.

Increased thought and planning before implementation is, in itself, a key part of the new methodology put in place to optimize network bandwidth, and it is of a piece with the movements in the rest of the IT world. Merely throwing faster hardware at a problem is no longer seen as a reasonable response when new needs are identified. The old computing model that saw hardware as cheap and analysis as expensive has been replaced by a more balanced approach that uses careful analysis to guide the purchase of systems that meet current and critical needs.

Economic necessity is, without question, the mother of this new attention to specific needs and requirements, and network optimization vendors are racing to present solutions to ever-more-sharply defined problems. The result will be a "best of breed" scenario that isn't at all new in the IT industry, with the almost inevitable long-term swing back to a fashionable all-in-one integrated solution. In the meantime, though, IT administrators are getting useful practice at defining needs and measuring outcomes, and network infrastructure vendors are getting better at presenting serious solutions to highly-targeted problems.