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Understanding transport protocol limitations

WAN optimization is increasingly important for VARs, resellers and consultants to understand. Learn how to identify transport protocol bottlenecks as a first step toward WAN optimization that meets a customer's stated business objectives.

It's important for VARs, consultants and systems integrators to align a customer's business objectives with their WAN (wide area network) resources. To achieve this purpose, sometimes it's necessary to adopt WAN optimization techniques such as advanced network compression. This tip discusses how to identify WAN bottlenecks caused by transport protocols, a necessary first step before you can learn how to overcome them.

What is a transport protocol and how does it create performance limitations? Most people wonder how TCP (or other transport protocols) could ever become a bottleneck, simply because it always seems to just "work." In an internetwork, a layer must exist between applications and the underlying network infrastructure. This layer, called the transport layer, not only helps to ensure that data is moved between nodes, but also helps nodes understand how the network is performing so that they can adapt accordingly.

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While the transport layer is an unlikely candidate for application performance woes, it can become a problem, primarily because the transport protocols in broad use today were designed in 1981. Today's application demands and network topologies differ greatly from the networks of the early 1980s. For instance, 300 baud was considered blazing fast at the time that TCP was created.

Congestion was largely due to a handful of nodes on a shared network of limited scale rather than the complex, high-speed, hierarchical networks such as the Internet, which is plagued with oversubscription, aggregation, and millions of concurrent users each contending for available bandwidth. Applications in 1981 were commonly text-oriented applications (and largely terminal-oriented), whereas today even the most ill-equipped corporate user can easily move files that are tens upon hundreds of megabytes in size during a single transfer.

Although the network has changed, TCP remains relevant in today's dynamic and ever-changing network environment. TCP has undergone only minor changes in the past 25 years, and those changes are in the form of extensions rather than wholesale rewrites of the protocol. Although there are some more modern transport protocols that have roots in TCP, many are considered developmental projects only and currently have limited deployment in the mainstream.

Another important consideration relative to today's enterprise networking and application environments is the cost and available capacity of LAN technology versus declining WAN technology costs. In effect, network bandwidth capacity has steadily increased over the past 20 years; however, the cost of LAN bandwidth capacity has dropped at a rate that is more dramatic per bit/second than the rate at which the cost of an equivalent amount of WAN bandwidth capacity has dropped.

The ever-increasing disparity between WAN and LAN bandwidth presents challenges in the form of throughput. Applications and access to content have become more enabled for LAN users as LAN bandwidth has increased; however, the same level of access to those applications and content has not become more enabled for WAN users given the far different cost versus bandwidth capacity increase metrics that the WAN has undergone. Put simply, the rate of bandwidth increase found in the WAN is not keeping pace with the LAN, and this creates performance challenges for users who are forced to access information over the WAN. In this way, the LAN has enabled faster access to a much more network-intensive set of data. At the same time, the WAN has not grown to the same degree from a capacity perspective or become achievable from a price perspective to allow the same level of access for nearly the same cost.

WAN optimization techniques (discussed later in this chapter, in the section "Accelerators and Compression") are considered adjacent and complementary to the techniques presented in earlier chapters; that is, they are implemented apart from network optimization (QoS and optimized routing) and application acceleration (caching, CDN, and other optimizations such as read-ahead). For instance, an object-layer application cache can leverage compression technologies during content distribution or pre-position jobs to improve throughput and ensure that the compression history is populated with the relevant content if the transfer of the objects in question takes place over the WAN.

In the opposite direction, a user has a read-write type of relationship with an object that has been opened through an accelerator's object cache, where that object has been validated against the origin server (in the case of a cached file). If that file is saved and written back to the origin server, the compression history and protocol optimizations (such as write-back optimization) can be leveraged to improve the write performance while saving bandwidth.

Compression techniques can be leveraged to minimize the bandwidth consumed and eliminate previously seen repetitive byte patterns. This not only helps to ensure that precious WAN bandwidth is conserved but also serves to improve the performance of the user experience because less bandwidth is needed. Consequently, fewer packet exchanges must occur before the operation completes.

Coupling compression and the application acceleration techniques discussed in previous chapters with optimizations to the transport protocol ensures that the WAN is used efficiently and the user experience is significantly optimized. In many cases, WAN users experience performance levels similar to those experienced when operating in a LAN environment. WAN optimization helps to overcome the constraints of the WAN while maintaining WAN cost metrics, preserving investment, and providing a solution for consolidating distributed server, storage, and application infrastructure.

Put simply, the network is the foundation for an application-fluent infrastructure, and an optimized foundation provides the core for application performance. Transport protocol optimization and compression (that is, WAN optimization) ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently while overcoming performance barriers at the data transmission layer. Application acceleration works to circumvent application layer performance barriers. These technologies are all independent but can be combined cohesively to form a solution, as shown in Figure 6-1.

Figure 6-1 Application Acceleration and WAN Optimization Hierarchy

Learn more about transmission protocol fundamentals, overcoming transport protocol limitations and overcoming link capacity limitations by downloading the PDF of Chapter 6 of Application Acceleration and WAN Optimization Fundamentalsby Ted Grevers and Joel Christner.

Copyright 2007, Cisco Systems, Inc. Reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., 800 East 96th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46240. Written permission from Pearson Education, Inc. is required for all other uses.

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