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Recently, wide area network optimization technology has come off the back burner, as network managers seek to improve the end-user application experience in branch offices, support cloud initiatives and gain visibility into how IT resources are being used or misused.
The overriding goal of WAN optimization is to maximize the efficiency of data transfer across the network. Today’s products accomplish this by using techniques to achieve performance, visibility and control.
WAN optimization technologies squeeze more out of WAN links and achieve better performance by caching data and compensating for TCP/IP design and implementation flaws. Visibility provides network managers with information about how WANs are being used, focusing on users and individual applications (not just IP addresses and TCP port numbers). This helps in planning, debugging, troubleshooting and — where necessary — policing. Finally, WAN optimization tools enable network managers to allocate bandwidth and prioritize traffic to critical business applications, holding back ultra-chatty background traffic and nonbusiness tools such as social networking.
Read on to clear up some popular misconceptions about WAN optimization and find out what’s fact or fallacy.
Originally, WAN optimization products focused on compressing data streams and caching data to deliver quick wins in poorly designed application environments, such as Windows file sharing over a WAN. These techniques are still applicable, but modern tools go far beyond basic protocol optimization. They focus on improving application performance by managing the WAN more intelligently with stronger quality of service and more visibility into the network than typical Layer 3 routers and firewalls can offer.
WAN optimization devices are no longer set-it-and-forget-it boxes, and these additional capabilities need to be managed. However, in a world where network outages can halt an entire organization, most network managers welcome the additional visibility and control capabilities.
Application-aware WAN optimization visibility and control capabilities are beautifully suited to a cloud-focused world, but features such as compression, protocol optimization and caching don’t work in an environment with public cloud–based applications. Network managers focused on visibility and control can obtain these features at a lower cost from other products such as next-generation firewalls.
Some cloud application makers have teamed with some WAN optimization vendors to deliver optimization capabilities for public cloud–based applications, but these will always be niche solutions. Unfortunately, the caching capabilities of WAN optimization products don’t translate to Internet-based applications. A few manufacturers are incorporating web caching tools into their products, but this advance won’t help as the Internet increasingly moves toward encrypted communications.
Voice and video real-time traffic can’t be further compressed but can be managed. WAN optimization tools can deliver better video conferencing and Voice over IP services to remote users. In cases where real-time traffic has been packaged into TCP, rather than in the more appropriate UDP, protocol optimization can smooth delivery of streams.
In theory, private encrypted applications aren’t compressible. However, most of today’s enterprise encrypted applications are actually HTTP-over-SSL, a well-understood protocol. By loading enterprise digital certificate information into WAN optimization, network managers gain full compression and caching capabilities because the device can decrypt client/server traffic.