A couple of years ago, textiles importer, Zedtex, had a problem: its 14 Melbourne staff were finding it a chore to communicate with the New Zealand headquarters, which kept the company's business-critical applications centralised on a Citrix platform. The fix was a Juniper Networks WX application acceleration platform in each office, boosting application performance 70 per cent, multiplying WAN capacity by 2.5 and prioritising critical network traffic using Quality of Service (QoS). According to Juniper Networks, redundant VPN traffic and response time delays were virtually eliminated.
Today, more organisations are seeking to improve network and application performance for remote users while analysing and controlling WAN traffic to ensure optimum availability. It's not an easy task; the increasing complexity of networks, coupled with greater business reliance on IT applications, means a multi-pronged approach is required. The good news is that the weapons in the average optimisation and acceleration arsenal are getting increasingly sophisticated and diverse.
Claudio Antonioli is managing director at Sydney networking integrator, SystemCraft. He said business continuity, network performance and availability were bigger issues for businesses of all sizes now than ever before.
"Our customer base is SMB, and they can't afford to have staff sitting around not able to do any work or deal with transactions," he said. "All that is more dependent on the speed and performance of the network." Antonioli said although everything was a lot faster today than a few years ago, increased demands on the network mean that's rarely fast enough. More organizations - even small ones - had staff who regularly work out of the office, connecting to the business' IT network and, often, server-based applications and centralised content management, via VPN tunnels and wireless Internet links.
"For us, the first issue is broadband speeds and the like, which is often not all that great - people need it a little bit faster. A couple of years ago, everyone was used to that speed," Antonioli said. "But today they want a lot more and they do a lot more over VPN." SystemCraft's strategy is to start from that point and ensure customers have the bandwidth they need in the first instance. From there, it looks at optimising the entire network and its components to ensure efficient operation and maximum availability. The integrator sells one solution covering failover and link aggregation that ensures business-critical applications, such as email, will work off multiple links. The product is AscenLink Intelligent WAN Load Balancer from AscenVision.
"It's not dirt cheap. It's about $2000 by the time they install and configure it. But those customers who have got it, love it," Antonioli said. "But then they get used to the better speeds, and they start to complain again." A reseller that can find an inexpensive and innovative way to optimise a customer network could do well - and get repeat business as customer expectations are raised. However, it is important to focus on the solution giving the biggest network performance gain for a customer's specific circumstances.
In some cases, a certain appliance installment, for example, can prove a waste of time in ROI terms, Antonioli said.
Choices, choices Juniper Networks director of advanced technologies, Scott Janney, said most of the developments in application acceleration technology in the last few years focused on making the platform more stable and scaleable. What was happening was that deployments for customers were getting larger and more complex as consolidation, mobility and virtualisation were added to the mix, along with big Microsoft Windows launches. Expect to see more functionality in a single appliance targeting network visibility and optimisation, Janney said.
"The latest release we have is WX OS version 5.5, scheduled for November. That's going to include the ability to accelerate SSL-encrypted traffic, and a feature to deal with [Microsoft] SMB signing," Janney said. "Other improvements include management visibility and reporting."
He said the biggest advance for the networking vendor, though, would be a hardware module for the WX