What is wide area network (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.

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This was first published in August 2008

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