WAN acceleration and optimization FAQ

Wide area network (WAN) acceleration and optimization can produce numerous benefits by reducing the traffic you're transmitting to remote locations. Check out this FAQ guide to learn about the significance of WAN optimization in the disaster recovery (DR) space from Jeff Boles, Senior Analyst with the Taneja Group.

Wide area network (WAN) acceleration and optimization can produce numerous benefits by reducing the traffic you're transmitting to remote locations. Check out this FAQ guide to learn about the significance of WAN optimization in the disaster recovery (DR) space from Jeff Boles, Senior Analyst with the Taneja Group.

Table of contents:

>>What is WAN optimization?
>>Are single-vendor solutions available/realistic?
>>What are the benefits of WAN acceleration/optimization?
>>Are there best practices for cutting the costs of a WAN?
>>What can you do to increase the performance of a WAN?

What is WAN optimization and how is it accomplished?

In the Taneja Group, we consider the area of WAN optimization as just one technology within a larger umbrella of services, which we call wide area data services. Within wide area data services there are actually several technologies. WAN optimization is one and it's typically inline compression or a deduplication of a stream of data that you're sending over a WAN.

So, this optimizes your bandwidth or reduces your traffic, and gives users at remote locations more performance or reduces the amount of data you're transmitting to remote locations.

Under that umbrella, we also have wide area file services (WAFS), which is a term that the Taneja Group coined back in 2004. WAFS optimize CIFS, NFS, MAPI, and other protocols with deduplication, compression and sometimes caching, all tuned specifically for those protocols.

WAFS allow remote users to access file data and some application data, like Exchange or email systems, across a WAN, at local area network (LAN) speeds. This is done very transparently, so these users think they're getting LAN performance at a remote location. In some cases, some of these products can even mask short outages.

In addition to WAN optimization and WAFS, also under the umbrella of wide area data services, we see this category of application optimization that's not clearly defined in the market. But application optimization is tuned to also enhance the performance of other specific applications such as databases, computer-aided drafting, GIS tools, ERP applications and various others for remote users.

Under that umbrella, WAN optimization is one category, but it is a very general category that tries to optimize all traffic going across the WAN. But it might not be tuned to the needs of any specific application, which means you're just looking at a WAN optimization product, in comparison to WAFS or other technologies under this umbrella. This may not reduce the metadata and chattiness associated with various other protocols even though it's doing some deduplication and compression while data is being transmitted.

So, my word of advice here is to look at the overall umbrella of technologies. When you're looking at WAN optimization, also look at WAFS and see what else you can optimize for remote users, such as remote applications and data transmission.

Are single-vendor, integrated solutions that provide security and site-to-site and site-to-user functionality available.realistic?

Sure, I think you see solutions like this from Riverbed Technology Inc., as well as other vendors today. The question is really about security and site-to-site and site-to-user functionality. These solutions are all highly secure today and have excellent site-to-site functionality, but the site-to-user functionality may be a stretch for many of these solutions today just because they're typically appliance-based, there hasn't been a lot of development at the host agent level as far as I know.

There are some potential use cases for remote access applications that would be interesting. But overall at the heart of this question is really what can we except to emerge from vendors in this space and who is going to show leadership in this market?

Frankly, I think you're going to see vendors in this space diversify their capabilities even further in the future and do so rapidly. By talking to a number of vendors in this space, you can figure who is going to lead that next wave of technology.

It seems well within reason to me to expect more capability at the remote user level and more significantly, you should realize that vendors in this space are making use of what is rapidly becoming the fundamental technology across the storage industry, mainly deduplication.

So, when you're talking to vendors and trying to figure out how they play in your solution portfolio and enterprise architecture, you should ask yourself what their vision is for the future and you should be asking yourself how they might leverage data deduplication to more widely benefit your organization in the future.

I believe there are some strategic opportunities here and if one vendor has a clearer vision than another, maybe they should get a higher ranking on your selection chart. Today, we are looking at a highly fragmented approach to deduplication in the enterprise. We have deduplication on primary storage with products like NetApp's Advanced Single Instance Storage (A-SIS) and other single-instance-type products and I think they are going to be more of those coming to market.

We have different deduplication for backup and different deduplication for WAN optimization and wide area data services, for primary data again. But then, when we're going across the WAN with backup data, we're using deduplication and replication technology inside the virtual tape library (VTL) for that transmission, so again another level of deduplication in the enterprise. You should also ask yourself how WAN deduplication or WAN optimization affects your backup deduplication data stream, especially if you're replicating it for DR purposes or offsite backup.

But the real question here for me is that you should be asking your vendors how you simplify this process and reduce the deduplication process that is going across the enterprise. Just think about these different categories and consider how many processer cycles you're burning in a big infrastructure around deduplicating and un-deduplicating this data over and over again, throughout its lifecycle.

So, look for vendors that have a long-term vision that seems to involve some type of information life cycle management (ILM) for deduplicating data and want to stretch outside of their niche to give you wider ranging deduplication services across your enterprise. Also focus on these application optimization and WAFS capabilities where you need them.

What are the benefits of WAN acceleration/optimization?

The list gets pretty long, because there are obviously numerous benefits to be had if you can reduce traffic you're transmitting to remote locations. On one hand, it allows you to consolidate resources in one central data center or in larger data centers scattered across your enterprise, rather than having distributed data in all of your potential remote-office locations. As you consolidate that data, you can do so in a way that your users don't experience the lag time associated with traditional remote access. So, you get a better-performing infrastructure with consolidated data and your users in remote locations are still happy.

At the same time, you reduce your costs for WAN circuits, as you can go with either smaller circuits or you can do a lot more with your WAN circuits. If you're billed by utilization, you can reduce your costs or you can downsize your circuits.

Much more significant than just the cost of your WAN circuits, you get to reduce the costs of managing your data at remote locations. So, all of that overhead that you might be spending today on remote tape changes, having users or administrators forget to swap tapes at remote locations, having to replace and maintain equipment, having to worry about protecting data from walking off site or just being corrupted at remote locations, you can dispose of a lot of that hassle today.

As a result, you make your data more protected and more available at a centralized location. Even if you think your WAN infrastructure is not the best today, these appliances will make your infrastructure seem more available even with some misbehavior with your WAN infrastructure.

You can also better control your data when it's centralized and consolidated, which is becoming a big concern in compliance- and regulation-driven business environments. Overall, you will make your users happier because the challenges associated with those remote locations often result in outages, data corruption or slow response times when there is data loss. By centralizing that data, you can have a much more responsive infrastructure for your remote users.

Are there any best practices for cutting the bandwidth costs of a WAN?

WAN, WAFS and application optimization can all play a significant role in reducing your WAN bandwidth and utilization. They can reduce your latency, increase your performance and give you a ton of benefits in your WAN infrastructure. But realize that they are not a total panacea. You can't go out and replace your WAN circuits with the lowest bidder if you don't have sufficient service-level agreements (SLAs) for your organization.

You still need SLAs, you still need performance WAN circuits, you just may use less of your pipe, may have better performance across your WAN, and you may be able to downsize your circuits. But if it were my enterprise today, I would look at reusing some of those cost savings to even further optimize my WAN infrastructure and put in higher availability circuits.

WAFS is not a total panacea for all of your WAN infrastructure woes. Realize that one technology under the WAFS umbrella is typically not sufficient to meet every need in your enterprise. So don't approach your enterprise needs with just a WAN optimization approach if you're trying to replace or reduce the cost of your WAN circuits. So you need to look at all of your unique needs, including traditional enterprise applications, optimizations around those applications, the very chatty protocols, as well as just more general WAN and data transmission that can be optimized with LAN optimization.

As organizations centralize their systems, what can you do to increase the performance of a WAN?

Since all of the vendors in this space, including Riverbed Technology Inc., F5 Networks Inc., Blue Coat Systems Inc., Packeteer (which has been acquired by Blue Coat), Cisco Systems Inc., among others, have hundreds -- if not thousands -- of customers each, many companies have found that they can consolidate file and application services with almost zero impact to remote users.

This makes the WAN more responsive as you deploy these technologies across your infrastructure. I think it stands to reason for the enormous success that these vendors have had to show that there is a benefit to be had from WAFS technologies.

When you're centralizing your system, it's almost mandatory that you consider some of these technologies, as this is just the most valuable means in the market to increase the performance of your WAN enough that consolidation becomes practical.

 Jeff Boles is a Senior Analyst with the Taneja Group.

This was first published in October 2008

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