In my last blog I pointed out that the network is the last major component of IT to be virtualized. However, recent events, such as VMware’s acquisition of Nicira for US $1.26 billion, are dramatic proof-points that network virtualization is gaining traction.
Given what has happened to other components of IT, such as servers, that traction is likely to continue to pick up momentum. As I also pointed out in my last blog, one component of IT that has not been slow to virtualize is WAN optimization controllers (WOCs), as virtual WOCs (vWOCs) are currently available in the marketplace and have been deployed by a number of IT organizations. In that blog, I discussed how vWOCs enable IT organizations to be more agile. I am going to build off of that discussion and use this blog to discuss criteria that IT organizations should use to evaluate vWOCs.
There is no doubt that having a virtualized version of a WOC provides considerable value. However, the whole purpose of implementing a WOC, whether it is physical or virtual, is to improve application performance. Hence, when IT organizations are evaluating a vWOC, they must understand if the vWOC provides the type of functionality that can improve application performance. This typically includes functionality such as compression, de-duplication, caching, congestion control, forward error correction, and packet reordering.
While supporting the required functionality is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient. IT organizations also need to be able to quantify how much better their key applications will perform once the WOCs have been installed. While third-party tests of WOC performance can provide some insight, there is no substitute for doing a proof of concept and quantifying the performance gains.
The evaluation criteria described in the preceding paragraph apply to both physical and virtual WOCs. A key evaluation criterion that only applies to vWOCs is the hypervisors that are supported. Given the growing use of hypervisors from a variety of vendors, this certainly should include those from the leading hypervisor vendors, such as VMware, Citrix and Microsoft. However, given the growing use of public cloud services, this also should include support for proprietary hypervisors from a cloud computing provider, such as Amazon. In order for the vWOC to provide the necessary performance, another key consideration is the ability of the vWOC to fully leverage the multi-core processors being developed by multiprocessor vendors, such as Intel and AMD.
In addition to technical considerations, IT organizations need to realize that there are some significant differences in terms of how vendors of vWOCs structure the pricing of their products. One option provided by some vendors is typically referred to as pay as you go. This pricing option allows IT organizations to avoid the capital costs that are associated with a perpetual license and to acquire and pay for a vWOC on an annual basis.
Another option provided by some vendors is typically referred to as pay as you grow. This pricing option provides investment protection because it enables an IT organization to get stared with WAN optimization by implementing vWOCs that have relatively small capacity and are priced accordingly. The IT organization can upgrade to a higher-capacity vWOC when needed and only pay the difference between the price of the vWOC that it already has installed and the price of the vWOC that it wants to install.
As I said at the start of this blog, network virtualization is beginning to pick up momentum. Because of that, IT organizations need to develop a strategy for how, going forward, they will leverage network virtualization in general, and, given its growing importance, for how they will leverage WOC virtualization in particular.