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It’s The Best — And Worst — Of Times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities, 1859

Watch WorksNetwork demand is skyrocketing, networks are staggering towards obsolescence, and IT budgets are barely keeping afloat in an uneasy economy. What a great time to be a network professional. That’s because every time we seem to be at rope’s end, technology throws us a lifeline.

As Dickens noted, or as the even more venerable Chinese curse — May you live in interesting times — conveyed, with challenge comes opportunity. And smart people continue to come with smart solutions.

Need more network bandwidth? Better bandwidth management? How about bigger and faster networks, network optimization, or deduplication and compression? For network obsolescence and constrained budgets, there are new technologies, including software-defined networking.

Take WAN optimization as an example. It started life as an expensive piece of hardware that primarily addressed networking needs in branch offices, and eventually added a datacenter-to-datacenter capability. More recently, we’ve seen the emergence of software and virtualization, eliminating the need for proprietary — i.e. more expensive — hardware. And now WANop-as-a-service is starting to appear, which is good news for network pros because no one solution fits every need. Like the mainframe, tape, and the PC, rumors of WANop hardware’s death are, at the very least, premature.

“Some companies still want to buy boxes,” said Joe Skorupa, research VP, and author of 2013 Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimization Controllers. “Some users don’t want the added complexity of do-it-yourself with virtual appliance management.”

Virtual WAN optimization more than doubled in 2012, according to IDC, but that only accounted for just over 6% of the total WANop market. Even with Dell’Oro Group’s prediction that virtual WANop appliances will more than double their revenue growth in 2013, hardware will continue to meet most requirements.

Riverbed, which offers WAN optimization in hardware and software formats, as well as through its global managed service provider partners, was the lone vendor in Gartner’s leader quadrant. Skorupa recognized Silver Peak Systems for its ‘strong vision in pushing virtual appliances’ as an alternative deployment model. “(I)t was really hard to get good performance out of a software form factor a few years ago; that’s not the case anymore,” he said.

IDC also gave a shout out to Silver Peak. “With virtual product now accounting for more than 40% of its total sales, Silver Peak is among the vendors benefiting from the increased demand for software-based WAN optimization,” said Brad Casemore, research director of datacenter networks for IDC.

Cloud-based WAN optimization solutions also got added to this year’s report. “We had to do this because we are seeing some WAN optimization buyers this year decide that managed services were a viable alternative,” Skorupa said.

So the good news is that when it comes to optimizing your WAN, you can have it your way, whichever way — or combination — suits your needs and budgets.

Image credit: Guy Sie (flickr) – CC-BY-SA