Optimal WAN performance has become a necessity. But with so many applications clogging the virtual pipeline, sometimes traffic can slow to a crawl.
There are ways to speed up the WAN, however, and keep traffic flowing quickly, smoothly and uninterrupted, solving some of the speed and performance problems companies may face.
Eric Siegel, senior analyst at Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah-based research firm, said many organizations are running into problems because there is an increasing demand on WAN bandwidth. Bottlenecks, latency and packet loss have become commonplace, especially with multiple users using numerous applications. Many companies, he said, forced centralization to save money, but sacrificed speed and performance along the way.
Applications that worked fine on the LAN are moved to the WAN and they time out, or response time takes a major hit. In some cases, the application cannot be altered and upgrades in other areas could be extremely costly. Even worse, some companies shell out chunks of cash to increase bandwidth and the problem lingers.
Siegel recently presented several ways to increase and improve performance without changing the application or the WAN itself.
"We can't change the laws of physics," Siegel said, "but we can work around them."
Siegel said unnecessary data, flow-control issues with protocols, errors and ping-ponging between servers and clients can all slow transmissions over the WAN and hog bandwidth.
Siegel suggested some ways to boost WAN performance and speed, including:
- Caching: A cache sits between the server and desktop and stores data, like previously viewed Web pages or applications accessed by several users. When that content is requested, the cache, not the server, pushes it to the browser. The process cuts down on response time and decreases bandwidth use. A number of vendors offer free caching technology.
- Compression: Transfer time is improved by shortening files and making them arrive faster. Siegel warned, however, that encrypted files can not be compressed, so they must be compressed before encryption.
- Protocol modification: Often called "spoofing," protocol modification requires an external box or plug-in to hide network latency or protocol ping-ponging by using gateways to convert data to a more efficient protocol.
- Wide area file services: WAFS optimize access to files over a large geographical area by replacing a remote file server with a remote appliance with the same functionality.
"Virtually everybody should be looking at these solutions," Siegel said. "They massively approve performance. With these gadgets not only do you save money, but it makes things possible."
Siegel said transferring large files, like Common Internet File Systems (CIFS), was once intimidating because of the amount of time it took. Some companies wouldn't send them at all. But with acceleration technology, files can be shipped faster, "and people are starting to change the way they work."
And right now, the market is booming with options that offer one or more optimization features. "These technologies have been maturing," he said. "Vendors are wildly running around finding products they can sell into this explosive market."
Some of the major players in the WAN acceleration space include Cisco Systems Inc., Citrix, Expand Networks, F5 Networks, Juniper Networks, Orbital Data, Packeteer, Silver Peak and Stampede Technologies.
Orbital Data recently introduced a new product that combines flow control, compression and CIFS acceleration capabilities. Orbital Data CEO Dick Pierce said the TotalTransport 2.0 software in the Orbital 6000 series of appliances increases WAN throughput and improves application response time. It also includes an optimization engine, called the AutoOptimizer, which dynamically applies WAN acceleration to data flows without user intervention. Pierce said it's the only WAN accelerator that adjusts data flows automatically.
"There's more and more demand on this links," Pierce said, adding that some application speeds are "beyond the patience of the average user."
Pierce said TotalTransport "maximizes the pipe." He said the appliance can make applications like Oracle Financials, Microsoft Exchange e-mail, SAP and Microsoft SQL and Active Directory transport anywhere from three to seven times faster.
According to Pierce, the Orbital 6000 is installed at both ends of the pipe in less than 20 minutes. Once it's in the rack and IP addresses are added, it's ready to go. The Orbital 6500 for branch offices, and the Orbital 6800 for data centers can support up to 300 branch offices, he said, and WAN links up to 500 Mbps.
The Orbital 6000 series is transparent, Pierce said, and eliminates the need for charges to network management tools, firewalls, network services or applications.
In many cases, Siegel said, an optimization purchase pays for itself in less than a year.