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Review: WAN Optimization Appliances

We tested WAN optimizers from Blue Coat Systems, Cisco Systems, Citrix Systems and Silver Peak Systems in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. What's notable is what we didn't find: Differentiation based on network performance. We tested under common use-case scenarios of T1 and T3 links with 50 milliseconds of one-way delay. The products all performed well--you could simply drop any of these appliances into your network and, with some basic configuration, realize benefits.

The differences we uncovered in this round of testing lie in network integration, security, management and reporting. With the exception of Blue Coat's Proxy SG, which does more than just WAN optimization, there isn't much tweaking that can be done on these appliances. They're as close to fire and forget as you could ask for.

Analysis: Optimizing Your WAN

Few users rave when application traffic traversing a beefy corporate LAN meets a typical WAN. Even fewer enterprises are willing to spend to fix the problem. The answer: Make the most of expensive wide-area pipes with optimization appliances.

Don't confuse "fire and forget" with "simple," however. One message brought home to us during testing is the need for QoS marking for traffic bound for the WAN. While optimization will reduce WAN utilization, remember that networks, like nature, abhor a vacuum--that "extra" bandwidth will likely be consumed by nonoptimized traffic. QoS marking and enforcement at the edge router will ensure critical data passes unimpeded.

And, you'll need to get your ducks in a row to justify the prices of these beasts. In our market analysis of WAN Optimizers (see "WANtastic!") we provide ammunition and a back-of-the-envelope TCO worksheet.

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