WAN optimization technology improves cloud computing performance

Not only can wide area network (WAN) optimization technology accelerate slow applications across a network, it can also be used to improve cloud computing performance. In this tip, learn how WAN optimization works and how it can be applied to a cloud environment to accelerate traffic between a provider and an enterprise network.

You may think there is nothing you can do about slow application performance on the cloud, but the truth is that WAN optimization technology can improve cloud computing performance. Before you use a WAN optimization controller for your cloud computing adoption, read this article to learn how WAN optimization technology works and how it can be applied to accelerate cloud traffic.

Advantages of WAN optimization

WAN optimization has been one of the fastest growing technology markets over the past five years -- and with good reason: WAN optimization can help companies lower the overall cost of running a network while increasing user productivity by speeding application performance over long distances. Whether users are in the headquarters, branches or remote offices, a WAN-optimized network provides the same experience.

Many network managers that I've interviewed now consider WAN optimization a core network technology. In fact, several have told me that they would never run a non-optimized network again. Today, many companies have deployed WAN optimization controllers for application delivery to improve the performance of applications such as Exchange and Windows; but what many companies may not know is that they can leverage this technology to improve cloud computing performance.

A brief overview of how WAN optimization technology works

First, here is a bit of a primer on WAN optimization for those who aren't familiar with WAN technology. WAN optimization, also known as acceleration, improves the performance of applications through a number of WAN bandwidth optimization techniques. These techniques range from dictionary compression and data reduction to protocol substitution and application-specific optimization. WAN optimization is typically a dual-sided technology, meaning that one box is placed on each side of the WAN link and then traffic is optimized between them. This is called symmetric WAN optimization. One example of how WAN optimization works is that the technology caches files on a local disk, and when changes are made to a file, only the changes are sent over. This means that if a worker makes a small modification to a 5 Gb PowerPoint, only the change is sent, meaning that the entire file does not need to be copied over the WAN (this technique is referred to as data deduplication technology). From a high-level perspective, WAN optimization works because it reduces the overall amount of traffic sent over the wire and accelerates the data that is sent.

How WAN optimization technology improves cloud computing performance

Cloud computing operates on the principle that most of the physical assets in a data center become virtualized and then moved into a cloud. When an enterprise application needs a compute resource, such as a virtual workload or storage, the application goes and gets the resource from the cloud. While this may seem like a great idea, the amount of data that is moved between the enterprise and that cloud provider can have a negative impact on the performance of the application and cause latency. In addition, the connectivity costs to the cloud provider could become prohibitive if a more expensive connection is needed to speed up the delivery of the data. WAN optimization will provide the same application performance without the need to go through a costly network upgrade.

Using WAN optimization at both ends of the network connection that supports cloud computing can have a number of benefits. If cloud storage is being accessed and the data being moved back and forth is highly compressible (documents, spreadsheets, etc.), the WAN optimizer will compress the data as it crosses the WAN and then uncompress it at the other side. This can reduce the amount of traffic by as much as 90% in some cases. WAN optimization can also speed up the movement of a virtual workload or even boot a server from the cloud. When a virtual workload is moved -- with VMotion, for example -- a rather large configuration file like a VMDK can be shipped across the network. The VMDK itself can be in the range of 10 Gb of data for a normal enterprise application. If the VMDK is routinely being moved back and forth across the network, the WAN optimization device will send only the updates to the VMDK, meaning that the movement would happen in a matter of minutes rather than hours. This several-order-of-magnitude improvement could be the difference between an application working or not -- and between a company meeting its business requirements or not.

One of the downsides of WAN optimization is that it requires a physical device, so some cloud providers may not support its installation in the cloud computing environment. However, most of the solution providers are developing virtual, cloud versions that can be installed onto a virtual server at the cloud provider, making the process much simpler.

WAN optimization and cloud computing performance in summary

WAN optimization is rapidly becoming a core networking technology and should be a necessary component of every organization's cloud-WAN strategy. WAN optimization can help lower network costs and make users more productive.

To learn how to improve cloud computing performance with WAN optimization, read Part 2 of this tip: WAN performance optimization in cloud computing environments.

WAN optimization and cloud computing performance links

About the author:
Zeus KerravalaZeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting. His areas of expertise involve working with customers to solve their business problems through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs.

This was first published in July 2010

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