What's in demand?
Evolutionary predictions aside, there's ample demand for WAN-optimization gear as it exists today. Some of today's most ambitious IT projects - including server and storage virtualization, data-center consolidation and Web-services deployments - have one big thing in common: They take a toll on application performance.
"We want all our stuff in the data center because we want it where we can keep an eye on it and where it has our best power, our best cooling," says Rich De Brino, CIO at Advances in Technology (AiT), an IT services company that consolidated its business-critical applications under one roof. "The problem is, unless we have fast - and I mean really fast - links to all of our locations, users hate us," he says.
AiT employees are heavy users of unified-communications tools, desktop video applications and other collaboration technologies, De Brino says. For adequate WAN performance, particularly for video applications, AiT invested in network-optimization gear from Talari Networks (see "Four cool network-optimization start-ups").
"We want our apps to perform well enough that nobody says they're not using something because it's too slow. I don't ever want to hear that," De Brino says.
Similarly, Concord Hospital invested in Juniper's WAN-optimization gear after consolidating a suite of clinical and administrative applications in the data center on its main campus. The applications had been running in its many healthcare centers, clinics and physician offices. The consolidation project resulted in delays for users trying to access those applications across the WAN. "People would complain things were slow, but network utilization was not that high," recalls Mark Starry, manager of IT infrastructure and security at the hospital. "Most of the delay was due to latency," he says.
The hospital deployed Juniper's WXC 590 appliance at the data center and installed WX 500s and WX 250s at 10 remote sites. "The difference has been unbelievable," Starry says.
Stories like these, detailing how an enterprise deployed network-optimization technology to solve a particular problem, are in ready supply. Deployments like these made the market what it is today. "WAN optimization is very popular because it allows me to overcome a particular problem with a relatively small investment," Forrester's Whiteley says. "I could have a multimillion [dollar] consolidation initiative under way that isn't working well because the WAN is too bumpy. With a $50,000 to $100,000 investment, I can make that work really well," he says.
Most of the success stories, however, represent tactical deployments of application-acceleration and WAN-optimization technologies. Now, as application environments and network conditions become more complex, enterprises must begin thinking more strategically about optimization.