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The right WAN optimization tool for your line card

Carefully chosen WAN optimization tools can make all the difference for your client's network. This tip teaches you how to to select the right products and promote healthy relationships with vendors to optimize your customer's WAN. Learn how to train your staff to select the right application acceleration tools for your client, whether it be hardware, software or a combination of both.

WAN optimization and the closely related technology of application acceleration have become essential tools as organizations spread employees and computing needs over widely diverse geographies. Value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators are wise to incorporate these products as they design customer solutions, but they must investigate products and technology carefully before choosing among vendor offerings.

 Deep technical knowledge required

WAN optimization products cannot be simply put in place and expected to operate at maximum efficiency. They must be configured based on the client's throughput and latency requirements, number of users, mix of applications and WAN characteristics. To configure optimally, your staff must understand both the technologies used by your clients' applications and the techniques employed by optimization products.

Due to the complexity of these products, vendors and channel partners often develop close relationships; working together to design solutions and configure products for maximum customer success.

 One size does not fit all

WAN optimization products are not interchangeable. No one technique is capable of optimizing all network protocols and applications, and vendors concentrate on a subset of the market.

Before developing a relationship with a vendor, match the vendor's area of emphasis with your area of specialization. You'll need to devote a significant amount of time to train your staff, so unless you have the resources to train on a wide variety of products, you'll need to choose carefully.

Vendors such as Certeon, Packeteer, Riverbed Technologies, Silver Peak Systems and Stampede Technologies focus solely on WAN optimization and application acceleration. Large vendors including Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and F5 Networks also incorporate optimization features in their products.

 Choose vendor partner based on your market

Varying network types and applications require different solutions. Vendors have developed optimization products for the protocols and applications listed below. Each vendor specializes in one or a group of applications, but may include some coverage for applications outside its area of specialization. Identify the predominant technologies in use by your clients and then review vendor offerings to determine which vendors concentrate on your clients' critical applications.

  1. Remote serverless offices with Microsoft Office users . Office products access storage using Common Internet File System (CIFS). Application acceleration products designed for Office applications improve performance by reducing the number and size of WAN transmissions.
  2. Acceleration products use various techniques to speed up  AJAX transactions. Some require hardware appliances to be installed at both the data center and remote sites. Others are software based at the client with hardware only at the data center.
  3. VoIP makes limited demands on throughput but requires consistently low network latency. WAN optimization products providing QoS prioritize VoIP packets over other application traffic to meet this requirement.
  4. Microsoft Exchange uses the MAPI protocol. Microsoft has promised improvements to the IP stack in Vista and Longhorn to speed up MAPI, but a number of currently marketed products accelerate Exchange without requiring an upgrade to Vista. Vendors also expect to improve performance further when used with Vista or Longhorn.
  5. Acceleration products designed to speed bulk data center to data center traffic are often sold by VARs specializing in storage products. These products improve TCP protocol efficiency and compress data.
  6. Since remote branch staff using Microsoft SharePoint often also use Microsoft Office, products oriented toward SharePoint are likely to include CIFS acceleration.
  7. A variety of applications operate over Citrix and each requires specific acceleration techniques. Products designed for this market inspect the packet flow to determine which application is in use, and then apply appropriate techniques.

Choose vendor partners carefully

Study vendor offerings before choosing to establish relationships, but also consider vendor stability. Most of the small vendors listed above were founded within the past few years. While new vendors are appearing, others will undoubtedly disappear. Some will not survive as the market matures.

Plan to require an analysis of your customer's environment before recommending solutions. Customer environments often include a variety of applications using different network protocols. The best approach to overall optimization is often not obvious.

Despite the complexity of the technology and effort required to sell and deploy them, these products have become a necessity in many networks. VARs and integrators must allocate the resources and accept the risks to continue as suppliers and partners to their clients.

 About the author
David B. Jacobs of  The Jacobs Group has more than twenty years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software start-ups.

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