From Disasters to Every Day Nuisances
When Ken Adams, the IT manager for law firm Miles & Stockbridge, started looking at WAN optimization his goals were modest. “Looking ahead, we knew we needed to update our business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities, but a more pressing need was getting acceptable application performance at our branch offices,” he said.
Located in the mid-Atlantic region, Miles & Stockbridge has approximately 200 lawyers practicing in nine separate offices. According to Adams, there are a lot of separate trends converging that highlight the need to improve WAN performance, such as application centralization, disaster recovery, and limited IT support resources.
As applications migrate away from branch offices to the main office, as part of centralization and virtualization efforts, new problems emerge: Data is kept up to date and equipment is used more efficiently, but applications perform poorly away from the main office.
Miles & Stockbridge chose Silver Peak System’s WAN optimization solution and experienced improvements immediately. With WAN-optimization boxes at each site, Internet connections at one office can serve as failover connections for another. Moreover, since Silver Peak encrypts traffic, Adams said they now have a private, redundant, meshed network over the public Internet.
“I was able to drop all second and third ISP connections in branch offices. The WAN performance has improved to the point where the main office can now be an ISP for the branches.” Adams estimated that Miles & Stockbridge would see ROI within two years based on bandwidth alone.
“Bandwidth savings is the easiest thing to quantify,” admitted Jeff Aaron, director of product marketing for Silver Peak. “But it’s the other pain-points that really make an IT staff look good when they deploy WAN optimization.
The guy who is responsible for an application that performs poorly in a branch office no longer fields angry calls. The CIO responsible for business continuance now has a plan that doesn’t just collect dust on a shelf, and new technologies like virtualization can be made to work once you get the WAN to perform optimally.”
Startups Push the Envelope
Getting better performance can be achieved through a variety of techniques. The incumbent vendors have the advantage in having an installed base to which they can add on optimization. Data deduplication, header compression, and TCP acceleration are all methods for improving performance. None of these are new, but getting the acceleration cocktail to work en-masse is an engineering feat.
What is new is byte caching and this is where the startups in the space excel. Their purpose-built platforms allow them to cache at the lower byte levels, and along with other compression and acceleration techniques, they claim to be able to reduce sent traffic by up to 95% with little or no information lost.
In its simplest terms, byte caching looks for repeated data and preserves only one iteration. Indexes (or tokens) are created that represent the larger block of data, and traffic is reduced dramatically. “Byte caching is the best weapon the startups have,” said Whiteley.
Incumbents have integrated this technology as well, but an argument can be made that purpose-built systems perform better than legacy equipment with these new techniques bolted on.
Is this technique new, though, or is this vendor hype? Byte caching sounds an awful lot like what was going on several years ago when extending enterprise applications to mobile devices was all the rage (a trend that has yet to pan out).
“Granted, this isn’t exactly novel,” Whiteley said. “Whether it’s a mobile applications or disaster recovery, the commonality is finding a way to improve an underperforming link.”
Where WAN optimization trumped mobile enterprise applications is that an industry segment, namely storage, had an immediate problem. “Bandwidth is still doubling every year, but so are storage capacity needs,” Whiteley noted.
Storage started with data de-duplication, which reduced the need to store redundant data. Then WAN optimization companies took the next step, creating a system that applies not only to data at rest, but also to data in motion. Now, coming full circle, many WAN optimization vendors are developing software clients that can be deployed on any device, mobile or fixed.