WAN Optimization: Buying Guide

Monday Jan 23rd 2012 by Jeff Vance
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Selecting a solution to optimize your company's Wide Area Network requires weighing issues like cost and infrastructure integration.

As more companies seek to cut costs through off-shoring while boosting revenue through global expansion, they often forget about a big obstacle: the Internet. Mission-critical, time-sensitive applications don’t perform well when the traffic has to make a round trip from, say, Boston, MA to Hong Kong.

Simon Ku, IT manager, North America, for Raritan was worried about the performance of Raritan’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite. Raritan’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities are in Taiwan, but applications are accessed from offices in New Jersey, while data is replicated to New Jersey as well.

Raritan’s expensive multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) WAN links were nearing capacity, yet the company wanted to start sharing data from a Product Lifecycle Management application over its private WAN, too. Clearly, the status quo would not suffice.

As a result, Raritan started investigating WAN optimization solutions, which tend to be much more affordable than adding more private network (MPLS, Metro Ethernet, ISDN) capacity. As more and more applications move into the cloud and as workforces disperse across the globe, expect WAN optimization to become an increasingly important technology in coming years.

When your organization begins investigating WAN optimization, keep these five questions in mind:

1. Do you need it?

Many organizations have taken a different approach to optimization, instead optimizing applications for performance over the WAN. If you’re only sharing a single app from a central data center to remote offices, this approach may suffice. If you start adding applications, though, you’ll probably need better overall network performance.

And let’s not forget to factor in mobile workers. IDC predicts that the mobile workforce will grow to 1.5 billion by 2015. Driven by mobility, cloud adoption and rich media, networking equipment sales will spike in the next few years.

IDC believes that worldwide enterprise network revenues will reach $39.4 billion by the end of this year. The research firm also believes that WAN optimization will be one of the highlights of the networking sector, achieving revenues of $1.3 billion by the end of 2012.

If you don’t think WAN optimization is for you today, don’t be surprised if the need sneaks up on you quickly.

2. How much will it save you?

For Simon Ku of Raritan, the two top criteria for selecting a WAN optimization solution were price and performance. With Raritan’s MPLS circuits practically saturated, routing traffic from new applications over them would have been a disaster. Yet something had to be done. Even simple data replication – in this age of Big Data – would eventually demand better WAN performance.

Raritan ended up selecting Aryaka’s cloud-based WAN optimization solution over Cisco’s WAAS and Riverbed’s Steelhead products. Because Aryaka relies on a large cloud-based private network and delivers WAN optimization as a service, customers avoid installation and maintenance costs associated with hardware-based solutions.

“Now, we can redirect huge amounts of data replication traffic through Aryaka, so we have enough bandwidth left over for critical applications,” Ku said. “We are also able to add other applications without fearing that we will saturate our WAN links. Through its user portal, Aryaka provides good visibility into capacity and performance.”

No one I talked to for this story actually conducted a formal ROI study. However, all mentioned that WAN optimization was a major cost saver versus adding more MPLS capacity or plunking down additional servers in each and every remote office.

Jason Dickens, enterprise infrastructure manager at waterjet vendor Flow International, noted that after deploying Riverbed’s solution, Flow was able to avoid buying more bandwidth, while also being able to consolidate servers.

With better performance over the WAN, Flow could backup data using Microsoft DPM from its sixteen branch offices in China, Germany, and the U.S. to four regional data centers. “Now, we don’t have to put a DPM installation in every single office. This saves a huge amount of money,” Dickens said. “Without Riverbed, we would need DPM backup servers at each location because we wouldn’t have the bandwidth to handle our data protection needs.”

Flow was also able to consolidate sixteen Exchange servers down to eight.

3. Does it need to integrate tightly with specific apps or infrastructure?

Nu Skin, which sells anti-aging skin creams and nutrition products, needed to cut down on the high-bandwidth consumption between its corporate data center and disaster recovery site. Nu Skin relies on EMC’s data replication products, and therefore, a key requirement in selecting a WAN optimization solution was the capability to support EMC Symmetrix Remote Data Facility replication in asynchronous mode.

“Rather than facing a costly increase in operating expenses by upgrading our bandwidth, we chose to deploy WAN optimization technology that allowed us to initially optimize data replication between our corporate data center and our disaster recovery site,” said Brian Crandall, Global Systems Architect at Nu Skin. “It became clear to us that if we didn’t have a WAN optimization solution in place, we would certainly need to upgrade the network bandwidth to support our growing business.”

Nu Skin ended up choosing Silver Peak’s NX WAN optimization solution over those from Blue Coat, Cisco and Riverbed. Compatibility with EMC was the key selection criteria.

Now, Nu Skin has achieved an 8:1 improvement in bandwidth reduction for traffic going to their disaster recovery site, while seeing a 20:1 improvement in traffic optimization, which significantly increases the response time for their call center employees.

Similarly, Flow International looked at Riverbed and Riverbed only because of that vendor’s tight integration with Citrix products.

4. What kind of visibility will you have into traffic?

WAN optimization shouldn’t be thought of as a short-term solution. If you have bandwidth issues today, don’t expect them to disappear just because you added a new appliance or service to your network. Mobile, video and cloud-based traffic will continue to stream into corporate networks.

As such, having visibility into network capacity, performance and problems is critical. “Through Aryaka’s portal, we have better visibility into available bandwidth than through AT&T’s Business Direct portal [for the AT&T MPLS network],” Ku of Raritan said.

“Through AT&T’s portal, we can see some basic statistics, such as how much bandwidth we’ve used in the past and how many packets are dropping, but Aryaka’s portal gives us better real-time and more comprehensive information.”

Visibility and historical trending, of course, help organizations predict and plan for future bandwidth requirements.

5. Do you want a hardware, virtual or cloud-based solution?

Traditionally, WAN optimization requires dropping boxes into each site – each data center and remote or branch office – that will benefit from the service. Aryaka, on the other hand, offers a cloud-based service, which helps bring down TCO and deliver WAN optimization to the mid-market. However, some large organizations worry they may sacrifice control going this route.

Meanwhile, vendors like Ipanema Technologies, Talari and Xtera offer competitive/complementary WAN virtualization solutions, which enable bandwidth to be aggregated and traffic to be routed optimally over any available private WAN or Internet link (MPLS, frame relay, ISDN, DSL, cable, 4G, etc.).

It’s a confusing market, but if you ask the right questions, you should be able to find a solution that will mesh well with your existing network infrastructure and your ongoing business goals.

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