Packeteer Primes Protocols

Follows the pack by adding protocol acceleration to WAN optimization; it may not be enough

April 18, 2006

4 Min Read
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Packeteer is adding protocol acceleration to its PacketShaper appliance, highlighting the growing range of features integrated in remote-office optimization gear. (See Packeteer Launches 8.0.) But the move, late for the market, may still not complete the list of features PacketShaper users would like to see in one product.

Until now, PacketShaper has supported quality of service (QOS) traffic shaping, bandwidth monitoring, and compression. Those features help relieve WAN traffic congestion but do not reduce long-distance latency for protocols originally designed for LANs, such as TCP.

But starting next month, Packeteer will offer two modules as part of the next release of PacketShaper's operating software: Xpress TCP to improve file transfers and Xpress HTTP acceleration for Web applications. The acceleration modules range from $250 for a 2-Mbit/s link to $10,000 for an OC-3 link.

Packeteer's TCP and HTTP acceleration come from its acquisition of Mentat in December of 2004. (See Packeteer Makes Mentat Purchase.) Packeteer has offered protocol acceleration in the SkyX Accelerator product from Mentat but has not had them in its core product until now.

Protocol acceleration is the latest "must have" for customers looking to optimize data transfer across remote-site links. The technique uses special coding to reduce latency -- the amount of bandwidth an application requires during round-trip data transfers between sites.Until now, there has been a move among suppliers in the remote-office connectivity space to combine the bandwidth-scrunching features of WAN optimizers with the ability to eliminate IP chattiness that's characteristic of wide-area file services (WAFS) products. (See Tacit Goes Optimization Route and Remote Site Rapprochement.) Protocol acceleration adds another dimension.

Most other vendors who play in WAN and WAFS (and combinations thereof) already support protocol acceleration, including F5 Networks, Expand, Juniper, Orbital Data, Riverbed Technology, Signiant, and Tacit Networks.

Even without protocol optimization, Packeteer led the $236 million WAN optimization appliance market in share for 2005, according to Infonetics Research. But its top three challengers -- Expand, Juniper, and Riverbed -- do protocol acceleration. Considering the market grew at 49 percent last year, Packeteer doesn't want to get caught standing still.

The suppliers have obtained the technology in different ways. Like Packeteer, F5 and Juniper acquired it, sometimes for hefty sums. F5 Networks picked up Swan Labs last September for $43 million. (See F5 Snaps Up Swan Labs.) Juniper paid $337 million in 2005 for Peribit, which optimizes TCP, HTTP, CIFS, and MAPI. (See Peribit Deal: More to Come.)

Expand, Orbital Data and Riverbed have focused on protocol acceleration from the start (See Expand Wakes Up to WAFS, Broadcom Enhances WiFi Phone, and WAFS Goes Into Orbital.) Bluecoat, a newcomer to WAN optimization, entered the field last month by adding protocol acceleration on top of software that streamlines applications. (See Blue Coat Puts On Acceleration.)The Mentat deal wasn't the first time Packeteer reached out to get more features for its gear: The company forged a reseller partnership last September with WAFS vendor Tacit Networks for protocol acceleration, but customers need to use both vendors' products to take advantage. (See Packeteer Gives Tacit Approval.)

At least one Packeteer customer welcomes the protocol acceleration upgrade, though was sold on the product's original features. Arun DeSouza, Chief Information Security Officer for Paris-based Inergy Automotive Systems , claims PacketShaper's compression increases WAN capacity by an average of 300 percent, saving Inergy money on bandwidth. He also uses its QOS to give mission critical apps priority over low-bandwidth links. His company uses PacketShaper in 30 offices throughout Europe and the United States.

"We used to average up to ten network upgrades a year with bandwidth increases," DeSouza says. "Bandwidth is cheap in the United States, but not in Asia and Europe. That's been a big savings for us."

Still, DeSouza says there's been a hole in PacketShaper that he expects the new features to fill. "Their file transfer is OK, but not as fast as we'd like, especially for bigger files," he says. "That's something they've worked on in this release. That will help us a lot."

Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa says the protocol acceleration makes make Packeeter more competitive, but he wonders why it took so long."This makes it more than a bandwidth monitoring and QOS device," Skorupa says. "We were expecting them to do it a while ago. If they had done this a year and a half ago, they could've limited the market for competitors like Riverbed and Orbital Data."

For now, though, Packeteer may rely on the quality of its WAN compression, rather the comprehensiveness of its integrated remote-site features, to keep customers engaged. According to Skorupa, Packeteer is still incomplete without CIFS or MAPI optimization. For now, Packeteer still relies on Tacit for that. And since that is just a reseller deal, the supplier's offering no roadmap for further integration.

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Blue Coat Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BCSI)

  • Expand Networks Inc.

  • F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV)

  • Gartner Inc.

  • Infonetics Research Inc.

  • Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR)

  • McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA)

  • Orbital Data Corp.

  • Packeteer Inc. (Nasdaq: PKTR)

  • Riverbed Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: RVBD)

  • Signiant Corp.

  • Tacit Networks Inc.

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