Application performance across the network has never been more important. Companies are seeking effective and affordable ways to improve response times as today's workforce becomes dispersed through branch offices and other remote facilities. Giving remote workers access to all the right applications, however, is a challenge for any organization with offices separated by distance from the corporate datacentre. Latency, for starters, is a big issue.
While wide area networks (WANs) cover the connectivity issue, they have inherent delay and bandwidth limitations, resulting in inefficient and slow applications. Technology improvements in network optimisation are now helping organisations improve the performance of applications and overcome the speed barrier.
According to IDC, enterprises are striving to improve continuity by implementing a combination of WAN optimisation and secure content and application delivery (WAN application delivery or WAD).
"Eight per cent of people don't work in headquarters, but in the branch, so we need to empower those people with apps," Juniper Networks APAC systems engineering manager, Greg Bunt, said. "The branch environment needs to enable access to resources from the core of the network." Juniper scooped up Peribit Networks in a bid to get mightier in the WAN acceleration, optimisation and security delivery space. Essentially, the product lines enable distributed enterprises to deliver LAN-quality application performance over the WAN.
"The Peribit acquisition gives us an opportunity to get even more detail at the application delivery level. It gives us more visibility into apps," Bunt said. Many organisations looked at the performance of the applications in hindsight, he said, and didn't adequately deal with the latency issues. But awareness was improving.
"It is becoming a mainstream technology," Bunt said. "The financial institutions, traditionally very conservative, are starting to adopt it, so you know it's becoming mature."
Applications are typically designed to communicate over the LAN. It was a challenge trying to replicate the same speedy transfer of files over the WAN, Blue Coat Systems' Asia-Pacifi c product marketing manager, Leigh Costin, said.
Top issues included latency, congestion, bandwidth consumption, and protocol issues.
The vendor recently launched the SG Client, which he said represented a major step to extend WAN optimization to individual remote users within an integrated framework for application delivery.
With mobile and remote users now comprising a growing portion of all employees, a unified platform that extends application performance and security control to individual endpoints is an emerging IT requirement, he said.
Costin said customers were realising the benefits of adopting WAN optimisation technology. Significant growth is coming from the WAD segment in the Asia-Pacific market, according to IDC.
"Australia is a rising star," Asia-Pacific senior research manager, networking, Rachel Lo, said. "The growth is overtaking places like China and Korea, and it is the biggest market within Asia-Pacific."
Last year, the Asia-Pacifi c WAN optimisation market excluding Japan, was worth $US127 million. The Australian segment reached $US38 million, more than doubling from its 2005 figures of $US15 million. The overall market in 2005 was $US66 million. Packeteer was the top player in Australia at the moment, Lo said. Other notables included Exinda, Expand, Cisco, Blue Coat and Riverbed.
"It's an emerging market segment and there's an opportunity for niche players, and giants like Cisco, to make inroads," she said. "Datacentre consolidation, together with the need for better branch office connectivity, is fuelling demand."
Companies needed to deploy WAD solutions to maximize network performance by shifting the application chattiness back to the datacentre, Lo said. Security was also increasingly playing a key role behind network optimisation, she said. As a result, many WAN optimisation vendors were incorporating security elements into their solutions.
Blue Coat's Costin said companies which wanted to reduce branch office costs and improve the WAN needed a combination of networking and security functionality to do so. Top product components included access, filtering, security and monitoring.
"We're taking the WAD model and pushing it. We're offering optimisation in the infrastructure in a secure manner," he said. "You can't optimise without having an emphasis on security. What's the point of having a high-speed network pump out the good stuff, but then also have spyware optimised on the network? "It is about accelerating your apps in a secure manner." Costin said many vendors in this space offered optimization and security as separate entities.
"They come at it from the network side, but have no concept of the importance of security. We think of it as secure optimisation. Why help the virus get to the network faster? We want to stop the bad things happening, and accelerate the good things," he said.
While WAN optimisation and secure content is a horizontal market play, it is best suited to companies with complex networks, or distributed organisations with lots of internal requirements. Costin said Blue Coat's top verticals included manufacturing, financial, health, pharmaceutical, retail and government.
WAN Optimisation on a tear
He pointed out WAN optimisation must also be enterprise-ready to deal with a broader mix of applications - ERP apps and Web-based apps for example - and a wider user deployment.
While Packeteer country manager, Bede Hackney, agreed market demand for WAN optimisation was on a tear, he claimed blending it with security wasn't one of the most important technology components. The focus should instead be on monitoring and reporting, control and quality of service (QoS), data compression, protocol acceleration, and application acceleration.
The security blend may bring about a trade-off in terms of performance. "I will be controversial here and say it's more about the network and the infrastructure than security. I see some inherent challenges in the blend of security and WAN optimisation," Hackney said. Packeteer is consolidating the above key components into an all-in-one appliance. Dubbed the branch office in-a-box or 'bob', it will be released this month.