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WAN optimization finds its way into small businesses

Exinda Networks has upgraded its wide area network optimization appliance aimed at bandwidth-strapped small businesses and branch offices.

Wide area network (WAN) optimization is talked about much more than it's actually used.

But the technology that was originally aimed at the enterprise market could make its way into small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) even before large companies fully latch onto it.

Last week, Exinda Networks -- which focuses solely on WAN optimization, network visibility and application acceleration -- upgraded its WAN optimization appliance for small branch offices and businesses with up to 30 users.

Exinda's 1710 is at the low end of the company's x700 series appliances, which all aim to better use available bandwidth by prioritizing applications, monitoring the network and limiting or controlling so-called recreational Internet traffic.

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"There are two categories that this will serve: a small company improving utilization or a small branch office of a big company that wants improved functionality," said Stan Schreyer, Exinda's vice president of channels. Schreyer explained that these kinds of products have always been priced to restrict SMB and small branch office access.

Exinda's 1710, which replaces the company's first small appliance, the 1700, costs about $1,400. The 1710 can prioritize major applications like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video the same way that bigger boxes can, but it is scaled down for fewer users, monitoring up to 8,000 network traffic flows at either 2 or 10 megabits.

But price may not be enough to make this push work.

WAN optimization and application acceleration have been buzzwords for a little more than five years, but the actual technology is only present in about 5% to 6% of branch offices, said analyst Jim Metzler of Ashton, Metzler & Associates. That means that value-added resellers (VARs) and vendors selling WAN optimization are still largely in the educational phase of the sales process.

"It isn't until [companies] stub their toes that they become interested," Metzler said. Such "stubbing" is what happens when companies take on new applications and are suddenly bandwidth-strapped. "Exinda's challenge is to be there when companies stub their toes."

Once Exinda gains name recognition, Metzler said the company has an interesting future in serving up WAN optimization to small companies and branch offices. SMBs have the same issues as larger companies when it comes to distributed workforce, data access and bandwidth challenges. "What they don't have is anywhere near as large IT shops," he said.

Facing the prospect of skeleton IT staffs, Exinda's success with the 1710 is predicated on ease of use, Metzler added. "Complexity would be the death of this technology," he said. Exinda touts a 12-step installation process, which its press release calls "easy."

Eric Winegar, president and CEO of NLE, an Orem, Utah-based Exinda partner, said his company sold larger Exinda boxes into two small shops in the last 30 days. In both cases the companies were rolling out VoIP and had remote video applications that they needed to protect, while they didn't mind as much if file transfers, for example, took a little longer. Small companies, he said, have the same problems handling "aggressive applications" as large companies, so the need for WAN optimization in this segment is clear.

As for the returns on selling less expensive boxes, Winegar said that "the sales cycle is just as long and the dollar is not as big." Nevertheless, making the sale is worth it in the long run. "One of the reasons we like to go after young, growing firms is that small firms become big ones."

The Exinda 1710 will be available mid-June. The company will continue support for currently installed 1700s.

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