Gartner's magic quadrants are industry evaluation tools that divide vendors into four categories: leaders, which offer both a completeness of vision and an ability to execute; challengers, which can execute but lack vision; visionaries, like Citrix Systems, which have a strong vision but have problems executing on that vision; and niche players like Silver Peak Systems, F5 Networks and Juniper, which Gartner believes lack both vision and ability to execute.
The new Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization is Gartner's first since 2007, when Riverbed, Blue Coat and Expand all earned "leader" marks.
Riverbed led the pack for what Gartner cited as a "broad set" of top-tier partners ranging from AT&T and BT to Microsoft, and a broad suite of acceleration support and features.
It is broader feature sets like Riverbed's that Joe Skorupa, Gartner vice president and lead author of the report, said were a critical shift in the WAN optimization and acceleration market.
The Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization is meant to help guide enterprise equipment purchasing decisions, but Skorupa said the document also highlighted several trends in WAN optimization, chief among them the convergence of related functionality into a single product.
"A lot of companies four or five years ago thought they were building products, when they were really building features," he said.
He cited load balancing, TCP optimization and browser acceleration as examples of features that now were becoming standard in WAN optimization and acceleration products. "Nobody really wants seven products stacked up in boxes on each other at the branch."
Along these lines, the Gartner report also highlighted Blue Coat's merging of security, visibility and optimization into its ProxySG appliances, along with price competitiveness, as factors that set it firmly in "leader" territory.
Expand's focus on virtualized and appliance-less optimization helped it earn the same distinction.
Juniper, marked a 2007 leader in WAN optimization, was demoted to "niche" status despite its attempts at a WAN optimization overhaul.
Juniper did not return a call for comment on its Magic Quadrant downgrade, but the report cited Juniper's "low and declining market share," resulting from near invisibility in the market, as a cautionary factor.
According to Infonetics, Juniper sits in fourth place for WAN optimization market share behind Blue Coat, Riverbed and Cisco.
Aside from Juniper's market visibility problem, the report also cited a lack of a software-based WAN optimization controller (SoftWOC) as a deterrent to those considering their WAN optimization options.
Cisco Systems, normally a leader in networking industries, ranks as only a challenger in WAN optimization.
Gartner says Cisco offers competitive pricing and an excellent reputation for support. But these pluses are undermined by Cisco's tendency to follow rather than lead in WAN optimization technology.
Skorupa cited Cisco's late releases of a full-featured WAN optimization controller, SoftWOC and messaging application programming interface (MAPI) acceleration as examples of the follower mentality. He said user complaints about compatibility and performance further hurt the networking giant's cause.