The market for WAN optimization solutions is competitive, with a number of providers offering their own mix of features and capabilities. How can network administrators sort through the options to find the best solutions for their individual needs?
Experts advise enterprises to consider a number of factors:
- Evaluate your overall application delivery needs. For example, if an organization sends large volumes of repetitive data over the WAN, then a solution with data deduplication capabilities should be the focus. For applications that require high bandwidth, such as backup and disaster recovery systems, look to solutions that accommodate critical throughput levels.
- Perform a network assessment. In addition to profiling applications, study overall traffic patterns and demands currently placed on the WAN. “When the enterprise does a network assessment, many people are surprised by what’s eating up their bandwidth,” says Henry Tam, product marketing manager at WAN-optimization solutions vendor F5 Networks.
- Talk to business project managers. Network administrators often have a clear idea of upcoming IT initiatives that will likely soak up bandwidth. But if they don’t meet regularly with department chiefs, they could be blindsided by new initiatives. Foster ongoing communications with business managers to learn what new mobile applications or software as a service initiatives, for example, will be competing for WAN resources.
- Study vendor roadmaps. Understand the growth potential of any optimization solution before deployment. Look for makers who plan to expand beyond just bandwidth concerns and evaluate WAN optimizers that include other capabilities important to the organization, such as security or single sign-on. “Look at WAN optimization in a broader, more holistic way versus just as a point solution,” Tam says.
- Don’t forget about scalability. Determine if near-term plans for cloud computing, desktop virtualization or other strategies will bring hundreds (even thousands) of new users under the WAN optimization umbrella. If so, the optimization solution must be able to scale quickly.
“Many enterprises that have deployed WAN optimization to some degree now want to expand it to many more offices and users,” says Prashanth Shenoy, senior manager for borderless networks marketing at Cisco Systems.
- Plan for the unexpected. WAN optimization technology is reliable but not infallible. To guard against impaired WAN performance, choose solutions that maintain network communications even if the optimization capabilities fail.
- Look for implementation ease. WAN optimization controllers should install directly into the IT infrastructure with one end of the network wire coming into the appliance from the router and another wire going out to a switch. WOCs should also be able to automatically identify and connect with one another, no matter where they reside on the WAN. The best products provide a central console so administrators can manage all devices from a single location.
- Choose native support for IPv6. Although the latest Internet protocol version may not be an imperative for many organizations now, it will likely become a factor over the life of any optimization solution purchased within the next few months, Tam points out.
“Start by developing a good understanding of each application’s performance requirements — which ones can or cannot endure some transmission delays,” suggests Paula Musich, senior analyst for enterprise networking and security at the technology advisory firm Current Analysis. “Then you can start looking for the approach that works best for you.”