Optimal WAN Optimization

Experts and end users share insights on choosing the best fit for your site

July 19, 2007

6 Min Read
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WAN optimization has become a fact of life for IT managers intent on saving bandwidth costs, increasing response time, and improving efficient application delivery to remote sites. (See WAN Optimization Forges On.) But for anyone just getting going, making a choice can be tough. A diverse set of products, along with a list of suppliers that keeps growing in spite of significant consolidation, add to potential confusion.

How can users get the best value from this smorgasbord? To find out, we turned to industry experts, along with some customers who've already made their choices. Here are the top tips we culled:

  • Set your priorities. Most WAN optimization products compress data and create protocol-specific shorthand to reduce traffic "chattiness" and speed response time to remote sites. Apart from that, the range of features and functions varies considerably, calling for users to set goals and priorities before looking into products.

    Are you mainly looking to streamline email, compress database traffic, reduce response time for remote transactions, a combination of all this, or more? Are you a carrier or service provider requiring traffic control or shaping? Do you use only Internet connections, or do you have dedicated circuits? How you answer these and other questions will help determine where to look for products.

    A partial scan of today's suppliers shows there's plenty to choose from, with each vendor taking a particular slant:Table 1: WAN Optimization at a Glance

    Selected vendors


    Product name (partial list)

    Selected claimed differentiators

    Blue Coat



    laptop client; Web communication security and acceleration




    support of SSL traffic; application-specific support




    network integration




    laptop client; software based; remote access services integration

    Converged Access

    Branch Services Gateway

    traffic management functions



    Unified Performance Management (UPM)

    wide-area file services (WAFS) focus

    Expand Networks



    integration with H3C and other network suppliers



    WANJet; WebAccelerator, Enterprise Manager

    hardware-based, enterprise- and carrier-level solutions



    WXC 500 and WXC 250

    enterprise and carrier-level solutions


    iShaper and iShared

    laptop client; Microsoft integration




    enterprise solutions; performance; Web acceleration

    Silver Peak


    NX and Global Management System

    performance; management

    Stampede Technologies


    Application Acceleration Series

    multi-user client software

    Determine an ROI approach up front. Knowing how you will cost-justify a WAN optimization product can help narrow your search to products in your price range. One would-be customer, for instance, plans to start his WAN optimization search when he thinks the technology would cost less than getting another dedicated WAN circuit.

    "We can send 400 copies of Windows out every twenty-four hours," says Pat O'Day, CTO of BlueLock, a hosted IT service provider based in Indianapolis. "And we're replicating a lot of database traffic, which is extremely compressible." But O'Day won't spring for WAN optimization until the savings he would realize from the purchase would outweigh the cost of simply adding another line.

    Decide what you don't need. There are some features you may not require or wish to pay for. Back in May 2007, Mark Dietrick, CIO and senior associate at architectural design firm Burt Hill, said his company's robust MPLS network in the U.S. lessens the need for WAN optimizers at remote offices. So when Packeteer came up with additional Microsoft application tweaking, he pondered his need for it. "Caching alone has worked extremely well for us in the U.S., and we have not felt the need for anything additional to help us with traffic," he said. In parts of the world where the Internet/VPN is used for remote office access, the use of Packeteer's iShaper could be a boon -- though Dietrick hasn't yet made a decision to buy it. (See Packeteer Gets Microsoft Push.)

    Look for layered solutions. "My biggest recommendation is to make sure a single appliance can handle multiple application accelerations," says Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. "Multiple appliances can add serious complexities." He suggests looking for products that offer one platform for TCP acceleration and all the applications that rely on TCP, including MAPI, CIFS, NFS, email, HTTP, and FTP. "You may pay extra, but it may be worth it to have multiple solutions ooze out of the same appliance."Check security. A handful of companies say they can handle SSL traffic without changing SSL encryption. "If any of these appliances make security aspects less than what you have in your current environment, throw them out the window!" says Arun Taneja. "It's a very major consideration. Check out how the product deals with HTTP/S... Is it transparent to my remote users? Will it work the same remotely as it does in the local environment?

    Try it out. "The WAN optimization vendors are generally pretty willing to let you try their equipment," says BlueLock's O'Day. He suggests trying out optimizers in house to see how much data throughput or response time actually improves. You might do that every few months for a while just to be sure you get consistent measurements.

    Analyst Steve Steinke of the 451 Group also suggests the trial route. "WTO [WAN traffic optimizer] vendors are typically willing to loan out products for evaluation, and the vendors claim it doesnt take long to deploy a pair and ascertain how much they help key applications."

    See if it fits in. Working out how well a WAN optimization product will integrate with your existing technology is a major pitfall for many users, according to Amichai Lesser, director of product marketing at network services specialist Shunra. (See Shunra Offers New Service.) "It's all about planning in advance and making sure that you understand your business needs," he says. "How well will the solution integrate with the rest of your infrastructure?"

    Many users, for example, find that their WAN optimization products can impact existing network monitoring solutions. "Some WAN optimization vendors offer tools that 'hide' the information and that can be a problem," he says, adding that some monitoring systems cannot 'see' certain optimized data, particularly if it has been compressed using a proprietary algorithm.Make sure it's manageable. "A solution must have management from a central location," Taneja says. "I need to be able to see all branch offices and the data center and push down common policies to remote locations. The whole idea is not to have to travel to remote sites."

    Check your expertise. It doesn't pay to buy a product that will require you to pay for a consultant or new in-house expert. The Shunra exec urges users to consider the skills needed to deploy the technology up front. "Expertise is a very important factor when you're considering WAN optimization," he says. "On one extreme there's 'deploy and forget' solutions, and at the other extreme there are solutions that require day-to-day management," he says. "The more complicated your environment is, the more you will have to manage, and that can affect the TCO."

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, and James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • The 451 Group

  • Shunra Software Ltd.

  • Taneja Group

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