When assembling a panel for the "Breakthrough WAN technologies" session at Interop Las Vegas 2011, moderator Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, looked beyond the usual suspects, such as Cisco Systems and Riverbed, for panelists. Instead he turned to WAN technology vendors and vendors from other networking niches.
While some experts disagree about whether Blue Coat Systems is a WAN optimization vendor, WAN engineers will agree that certain vendors, such as Meraki—a vendor deeply seeded in the world of wireless LAN technology—are not inherently WAN vendors. Still, the panelists—consisting of executives from Blue Coat Systems, Meraki, Ipanema, Talari Networks and Vyatta—were seen by Metzler as vendors that are taking a truly different approach to solving problems across the wide area network.
As varied as the vendors were, so too were their views on breakthrough WAN technologies. Andy Gottlieb, founder and CEO of Talari Networks, believes the Internet can be the new primary connectivity for enterprises—a trend backed by a handful of analyst firms. Talari's business is built on this belief. Its APN appliances optimize Internet connectivity for enterprise-grade wide area networks. Talari calls its concept "WAN virtualization." It solves the problem of Internet reliability by routing traffic across the shortest and most-available path in the network of Internet service providers.
Ipanema touted automation as an important breakthrough WAN technology at Interop 2011. Gone are the days where a network engineer must tweak network configurations to accommodate a new application, upgrade or patch, said David White, Ipanema's VP of business development. Ipanema's technology automates that configuration to work with "autonomic networking"—a network that is self-learning and operating, he said. Using sophisticated network visibility, an Ipanema solution sees every application on the WAN—providing enterprises with what Ipanema calls a "WAN governance" capability. The concept won the company a Best Specialist Vendor award at the 2011 Total Telecom World Vendor Awards.
Blue Coat Systems' chief scientist Qing Li used his time on the panel to discuss IPv6, shortly following the news of IPv4 address depletion from APNIC—the Regional Internet Registry of the Asia and Pacific regions. The vendor's large Asian presence brought IPv6 to the fore of its product message. While this WAN optimization vendor focuses on caching, secure Web acceleration and QoS for video, Blue Coat claims to bridge the gap between v4 and v6 with its IPv6-enabled appliances, helping enterprises run IPv6 over the WAN.
Kiren Sekar, director of marketing at Meraki, talked about how WAN engineers can capitalize on cloud computing. The wireless LAN company started out as an MIT project providing large-scale Wi-Fi across Cambridge, MA, via thousands of radios acting as wireless APs connecting back to one main server that they used to manage each access point. Now that Meraki has moved its hardware controller into the cloud while also extending its wireless model out into the WAN, the vendor can give enterprises control across cloud wireless LAN and WAN environments.
Addressing the cloud further was open source router vendor Vyatta. In order to provide what it calls "secure cloud on-boarding," the vendor has partnered with cloud providers like Citrix to provide a platform to run cloud services. Vyatta's technology can ease migration of applications into the cloud by giving enterprises a single subnet across the WAN, said Vyatta systems engineer Bob Rao. "Based on top of your virtual switch on the hypervisor of your choice—be it Citrix, VMware, Redhat KVM—we can create multiple routing networks with virtual appliances and then recreate your infrastructure on the other side so that you can transparently move those [cloud] services over," Rao said.
Such WAN technology advancements give companies the control, visibility and security—even in IPv6 environments, thanks to vendors like Blue Coat—missing in many enterprise WANs today. Technologies from Talari allow organizations to use cheaper resources, namely the Internet, for reliable transport. Vendors like Meraki and Vyatta give enterprises more confidence to adopt cloud and virtual architectures to save companies costs. Combined with Ipanema's autonomic networking, tweaking and touching, physical network appliances may be a networking concept of the past.
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