WAN acceleration at the IP network layer
Silver Peak Systems Inc. CTO Dr. David Hughes started out as a network guy, so when he looked at optimizing traffic over wide area networks (WANs), it wasn't from an application standpoint -- it was with a focus on the network. He asked: "What about the network needs to be fixed to optimize traffic across it?"
His solution to WAN acceleration was to take a Layer 3 (L3) approach. Rather than optimize the application layer -- Layer 7 (L7) -- like all other WAN optimization vendors, Silver Peak's WAN acceleration products optimize the network layer, L3 of the OSI stack. (See illustrated OSI reference model for more.) This allows Silver Peak products to optimize all TCP and non-TCP traffic, including video, VoIP, virtual applications and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).
"Optimizing one application at a time isn't scalable because they keep changing," Hughes said. "It seems [that] you would always be behind the ball if you had to keep updating [individual appliances] every time an application was updated.… [Also] when you work in the agnostic layer, you're less likely to break applications during a deployment."
This is the selling point for Silver Peak WAN acceleration products. If your company is fraught with change and the applications across your network are constantly evolving, then Silver Peak may be the vendor for you.
"If your company has diverse applications, it makes sense to use our products," Hughes said. "If your company isn't changing, maybe go to Riverbed. But if you're Google -- no way."
Hughes would know because his products optimize Google's WANs, along with those of many other large enterprise customers, including AT&T, Avaya, eBay, Toshiba, Verizon, Visa and Yahoo.
A look at Silver Peak WAN acceleration products
While Silver Peak WAN acceleration products have served the needs of large enterprises for many years, it wasn't until last week that the company released a small-end WAN acceleration device. It may take some time to determine how well Silver Peak System's NX-1000 appliance will compete in the SMB/SOHO space.
Industry expert Jim Metzler commented: "With the new NX-1000, the company is well positioned to expand its market presence by extending its solution to smaller enterprise locations and home offices, both of which require data-center-class products at affordable prices."
What Silver Peak WAN acceleration products use in lieu of a steelhead device, like Riverbed, is its Global Management System (GMS). Outside of logistical planning, a typical deployment requires configuring your network devices to the box. The GMS can automatically discover devices on your network and generate monitoring reports.
"The GMS generates many reports that give you security," Hughes said. "NetFlow records can be exported to third-party devices that do forensics." He then went on to explain that through these reports, one customer discovered that it had the Conficker worm virus before any other device on its network had discovered it.
Are Silver Peak WAN acceleration products right for your business?
Long before you deploy any of these devices, Silver Peak will ask you what's required of your network. Hughes says he asks potential customers these questions:
We like to know what their pain point is. What's the problem they're experiencing? What would be their definition of success? We also like to understand their network. Is it long distance? NYC to the Hudson isn't going to be, but a few hundred miles is a good candidate. That's not a hard-and-fast rule, though.
Besides the cost benefit that accelerating WAN traffic brings, there are other reasons you might want to turn to Silver Peak Systems. For example, Silver Peak can deduplicate IP traffic, while other vendors can only deduplicate over TCP.
"If you're trying to back up data, we're able to implement a disaster recovery," Hughes said.
According to An Overview of Silver Peak's WAN Acceleration Technology, Silver Peak stores a single instance of data for all offices connected to its appliances. Rather than copy and store multiple iterations of duplicated data, Silver Peak WAN appliances use start-stop instructions (more advanced than hashing) to indicate where duplicate data can be found and retrieved. Being at the IP layer allows Silver Peak to accomplish this.