buzzing bee

What’s the Buzz Surrounding WAN Optimization?

buzzing beeSince WAN optimization first began to be deployed in the mid-2000s, analysts like myself have written numerous articles about the topic, several vendors have entered and/or left the market, and products and services have evolved significantly. Given all of the changes that we have seen relative to WAN optimization in particular, combined with all of the fundamental changes that are occurring in IT in general, this is a good time to ask:  What are users saying about WAN optimization?

In 2007 I published what would become an annual report on application and service delivery. Each edition of the report has focused on three topics: optimization, management, and security. As part of preparing to write each edition of the report I survey network professionals on a wide range of topics related to application and service delivery.  As a result of having conducted all of these surveys, I have a lot of data that shows not only what network professionals are currently saying about WAN optimization, but how that has changed over time.

Back in 2007, one of the initial factors that drove the implementation of WAN optimization was that IT organizations were beginning to run chatty protocols such as Common Internet File System (CIFS) over the WAN.  As documented in the 2014 Application and Service Delivery Report (The Report), some of the initial WAN optimization challenges such as optimizing the performance of TCP remain very important, while others, such as optimizing the performance of chatty protocols, have become notably less important.  This diminished focus on chatty protocols reflects the fact that overall there has been somewhat of a movement to focus more on applications. For example, as was also documented in this year’s edition of The Report, optimizing the performance of a key set of applications that are critical to the business is the most important optimization task facing IT organizations, followed closely by the need to ensure acceptable performance for VoIP traffic.  While these have been important optimization tasks for the last few years, their importance increased notably in the last year.  In addition, a relatively new challenge — ensuring the performance of applications used by mobile workers — is now one of the most important optimization tasks facing IT organizations.

When WAN Optimization Controllers (WOCs) were first introduced in the mid-2000s, they were generally implemented as hardware-based appliances. While it is still possible to acquire a hardware-based WOC, as part of the broad movement to implement most if not all IT and networking functionality in software, software based WOCs are now widely available.  The Report contains the results of a survey in which the respondents were asked about their intended use of both hardware- and software-based WOCs.  It is not surprising that very few of the respondents indicated that their organization intended to make less use of WOCs than they currently do.  It is also not surprising that the respondents expressed more interested in software-based WOCs than they did in hardware-based WOCs.  For example, IT organizations that have not yet deployed WOC functionality are much more likely to deploy software-based WOCs than they are hardware-based WOCs.  In addition, IT organizations that have already deployed software-based WOCs and much more likely to increase that deployment than are IT organizations that have already deployed hardware-based WOCs.

Because WAN optimization has been around for a long time it would be easy to regard it as a mature technology with few if any changes, either in terms of the functionality it provides or how it is implemented.   However, as the users who were surveyed for The Report indicated quite clearly, that is not the case.  IT organizations are continually facing new challenges that require WAN optimization; e.g. ensuring acceptable performance for mobile applications. In addition, while much of the discussion of SDN is about the best way to implement network virtualization, virtualized WOCs have been available for a couple of years and IT organizations are increasingly choosing this implementation option.

Image credit: Chal Moos ( / CC-BY

About the author
Jim Metzler
Jim has a broad background in the IT industry. This includes serving as a software engineer, an engineering manager for high-speed data services for a major network service provider, a product manager for network hardware, a network manager at two Fortune 500 companies, and the principal of a consulting organization. In addition, Jim has created software tools for designing customer networks for a major network service provider and directed and performed market research at a major industry analyst firm. Jim’s current interests include both cloud networking and application and service delivery. Jim has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Boston University.