While many WAN optimization vendors try to attract cost-conscious customers with affordable software versions of their hardware products, other vendors are taking another approach: WAN optimization-as-a-Service. One such company, Virtela Technology Services Inc., is serving up a cloud-based application acceleration service that has been satisfying enterprises unable to justify the cost of managing other WAN optimization solutions.
What is Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration service?
Last year, Virtela launched Enterprise Service Cloud (ESC), an open platform for delivering multiple, cloud-based network services -- including network security, mobile device management and application acceleration.
"While traditional application acceleration implementations require a hardware device on the customer premises dedicated to acceleration, the cloud acceleration service does not. We have virtualized that function to run as a virtual instance on servers located within Virtela’s 50 Local Cloud Centers [LCCs] around the world," said Jane Morrissey, vice president of corporate communications at Virtela.
Virtela says these 50 LCCs form the largest cloud platform in the industry and allow Virtela to deliver content locally to end users. Because of its open architecture, Virtela ESC also works across any network, carrier and technology.
To deliver its cloud-based application acceleration service, Virtela Technology Services built an overlay network that leverages the paths of multiple Internet service providers (ISPs). The company created "Virtela Route," a route optimization solution that determines the most available path between multiple carriers. Virtela also uses "QoS mapping" to ensure that voice, video and Quality of Service (QoS) are maintained locally.
"Virtela does alternate routing across multiple ISPs, creating a network where there are paths available from several operators, and you can optimize performance by picking whichever path gets you better between Point A and Point B -- because most operators will have different node structures, and therefore a different number of hops and different levels of congestion," explained CIMI Corporation founder Tom Nolle. He says that while an enterprise could do this with their own on-premises appliances, the cost incurred from buying multiple connections would be more than any typical company to justify.
Who should consider Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration?
Most enterprise WAN managers juggle accounts with multiple carriers and maintain WAN optimization deployments across all their sites in order to deliver network services. Those who no longer want to manage 20-odd network providers or invest time managing WAN accelerators can essentially outsource the entire job to Virtela.
Likewise, if you're unable to add staff as your company grows, Virtela can offer a plethora of services -- including WAN optimization as a service -- so that you can focus your time on internal issues. Or, if your company is expanding into new regions, Virtela can take away the headache of finding carriers overseas and plug you into the services you need.
"Typically, companies with an international footprint get more benefit, because it's just hard for any single carrier to get connections [to you] around the world," said Mark Weiner, Virtela Technology Services' senior vice president of marketing.
Measurement Specialties -- a global manufacturer of sensors and sensor-based systems -- struggled to deliver consistent WAN services to nearly 1,400 users across 14 sites in the U.S., Europe and Asia, according to Bob Andreini, global director of IS/IT. He turned to Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration, security services and global managed MPLS network with DSL backup.
"At Measurement, we don't have any network engineers that know about wide area networking. All of our guys are site guys that manage the LAN and handle the networking locally … that's [WAN] staff I don't have to hire. For 14 sites, that would be quite an expense, and they would have to speak at least four languages." Andreini said.
The virtualized WAN services offered by Virtela also reduce the risks of dealing with a single carrier. Andreini likes paying X amount of dollars per month per site in a bill he can actually read and understand. That turns capital expenditures into operation expenditures, which is something his company likes, too. And if there's ever a WAN problem, instead of figuring out which carrier is at fault, he simply calls Virtela’s support organization, which puts him on the phone with a network engineer who can solve his issue there and then.
Companies that have a history of growing by acquisition, like Measurement Specialties, also benefit by letting Virtela handle M&A.
"[We give Virtela a] one-time installation fee and they coordinate everything. They set up circuit access and coordinate with local guys to get things turned on, and we connect it to our network and test it. … Whatever service we have, that just becomes part of the standard package for all our sites," Andreini said.
Who should not consider Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration service?
Some network engineers are reluctant to turn over control of their WANs to a third party. Brough Davis, network architect at Active Network, a social networking site for community events, is still slightly skeptical. His company is growing internationally through acquisitions, but it has wide area networking expertise.
"It's kind of difficult for a large enterprise that traditionally manages these different types of connections to take a step back and say 'OK, you guys manage it all,' and then have this level of trust that everything's got to work satisfactorily," Davis said.
However, companies can choose to outsource only a portion of their WAN, according to Virtela's Mark Weiner.
"You could use a hybrid approach by using WAN optimization for your major branches, then use Virtela for the rest of your sites to get real ROI," he said.
Cloud-based application acceleration services do lack some of the features of local WAN optimization hardware. Even though Virtela's WAN-optimization-as-a-Service dramatically sped up the application traffic flow across his WAN, Andreini admitted a cloud-based solution "maybe was not as fast as hardware [WAN optimization controllers] with all of the deduplication features those hardware vendors had."
Andreini also found that Virtela can do compression for access base type applications or "things with a lot of white space," but not for applications that are already heavily compressed. His main concern was replicating files to all of his sites.
"When we did testing, we compressed the data -- which is something that Virtela can't do; but we still improved [response time by] 50% for one application that basically does data warehouse files."
Is Virtela right for you? The proof may be in WAN cost savings
"We tried some hardware from other [WAN optimization] vendors, but the licensing and costs were exorbitant; the price performance ratio wasn't there," Andreini said.
Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration service costs a low monthly charge per location, and anyone who does not experience a response time improvement gets a 250% money-back guarantee from Virtela Technology Services Inc., which keeps customers happy.