Mobile WAN Optimization is Overrated

YawnThe WAN optimization market has gone through significant growth over the past decade. It’s gone from a niche technology that not many companies actually knew about to something that many network managers can’t live without. However, one segment of this market that hasn’t grown much is mobile WAN optimization, which raises the question, “Just how important is mobile WANOp to a vendors portfolio?” Certainly, if you look at Gartner’s last WAN optimization Magic Quadrant, one would be left with the impression that it’s the most important segment of WAN optimization. But while I have a lot of respect for Joe Skorupa and the boys, I think they’re wrong here for a couple of reasons.

First, when it comes to tablets and smart phones, there’s really no need to optimize traffic to and from these devices. Well, that’s not totally true — there is a need, but the manufacturers of mobile devices actually already do a lot of media and data compression and optimization of traffic to ease the burden on their mobile network partners. This means that even if a WAN optimization vendor were to create the worlds best mobile WAN optimization solution, the impact would be minimal since it’s hard to further optimize traffic that’s already optimized.

Now I admit that mobile WAN optimization isn’t just for tablets and smart phones — laptops were the first focus area for the “soft WOC”, but these didn’t really take off either. Why is that? As a concept it definitely makes sense: If you have a user that works in a branch office that has an optimized link, then the worker would want the same experience when out of the office as well. It seems logical, but the fact is that users work differently when remote.

Consider a typical mobile professional. When the worker is in the office they’re doing normal things such as editing documents, checking e-mails, updating PowerPoint presentations, and other things that require an optimized link. However, when the worker is out of the office how do most people check e-mail? On their mobile phone because it’s easier and faster. PowerPoints are normally limited to presentation mode, meaning the document is likely loaded onto the laptop, as are most Word or Excel files that someone may need. The best way to think about this is: when in the office workers are in ‘information creation’ mode, but when out of the office are generally in ‘information consumption’ mode only, again making the need for a mobile WAN optimization client minimal.

I’ll agree there are a few use cases where a mobile WANOp client makes sense, and that would be for consultants and other permanently mobile workers, but this is well under 5% of the overall workforce. Considering that this segment of the market makes up less than 1% of the overall revenue, I’d say that most customers agree as well.

As smart phones and tablets become more powerful and feature-rich, the need for the laptop client will diminish even more. Rather than chasing a market that likely won’t ever be more than 1 or 2% of the overall market, I would rather see WAN optimization vendors work on building better cloud and virtual products and leave mobile WAN optimization up to the mobile device vendors.

Image credit: Scott (flickr) – CC-BY-SA