If you manage branch locations, odds are they don't all enjoy access to innovative WAN services like Carrier Ethernet. You make do with assembly-line wide-area operations that carry big incremental price increases. Meanwhile, the amount of data traversing the WAN is surging--and, too often, slowing. Investing millions in an ERP system makes no sense if employees don't use it because of sluggish response times.
For too many years IT groups have had to suck it up and add more wide-area bandwidth--data services already consume 52 percent of enterprise telecom budgets, according to Forrester Research. Problem is, added capacity gets you only so far before limiting factors like latency and application behavior kick in. Vendors have touted load balancing, AFEs (application front ends), content distribution, WAFS (wide-area file systems) and caching as answers, but each has limitations.
• Review: WAN Optimization Appliances
Today's WAN optimizers readily deliver tangible performance benefits -- the differences lie in network integration, security, management and reporting. We tested products from Blue Coat, Cisco, Citrix and Silver Peak. See how they fared on our live test network.
The answer: Make your pipes smarter, not bigger, with WAN optimization. It developed from WAFS and applies a combination of methods, such as TCP and application optimization, compression and data reduction--think compression with a really, really big dictionary built from your data, across all TCP flows, not just file serving. The products we tested can make that anemic T1 look like a rocking 10-Mbps WAN or turn a T3 into a fire hose of an OC-3. Got a major announcement to make to the entire company? Pre-position video on remote appliances and allow access at the appointed hour. Some optimizers can help even UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packets move a little faster. And it's not just branch offices that benefit; home users and road warriors will see improvements as well if they have a client installed.
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Of course, there are caveats. If your WAN traffic is mostly random bits, as with VoIP or live video, WAN optimization won't hurt, but it won't help much either. In addition, you must address the security implications of yet another appliance containing sensitive data. Encrypted network traffic can't be optimized because it isn't compressible and changes per user or per connection. And, the optimizers we tested require time and tuning to reach their full potential.