Evaluating Cisco WAAS WAN optimization

Cisco WAAS is a family of WAN optimization products that integrate well into the network environment and offers broad application support through Cisco's partnerships.

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Cisco, whose history is as a major provider of networking hardware, refers to its WAN optimization product as Wide Area Application Services (WAAS). In large part because of its lineage, Cisco asserts that one of the strengths of WAAS is that it integrates with Cisco switches and routers better than any other WAN optimization controller (WOC).

Cisco also differentiates itself in the market with the alliances it has developed with software vendors and applications teams such as BEA Weblogic (acquired by Oracle); Data Domain; IBM WebSphere Portal and iNotes; Isilon Systems; Microsoft Exchange Server, Windows Server 2008 and Office SharePoint Server; NetQoS (acquired by CA); Oracle E-Business Suite, Fusion Middleware, Siebel and PeopleSoft; SAP Business Suite and SAP Net Weaver; and VMware View.

In at least some cases, these alliances have led to validated designs created jointly by Cisco and the software vendors. Validated designs are important because application optimization is a complex task, and they can reduce the risk that is associated with WOC deployments.

Among data center infrastructure vendors, Cisco's WAAS has been certified by EMC E-labs for SRDF replication with MDS/FCIP and native IP, as well as NetApp for Snap Mirror. Other alliance partners include NetQoS, InfoVista and Fluke Networks for application performance management.

Important facts about Cisco WAAS

Cisco currently offers eight different appliance models, three different router-integrated network module models, and a WAN optimization mobile client solution. Cisco also offers optimization capabilities as part of IOS, including NetFlow (visibility), Performance Routing (PfR -- optimized path selection based on policy), and quality of service (QoS).

The Cisco mobile client solution is called WAAS Mobile, and it supports Windows CE, 98, ME, 2000, XP and Vista. Microsoft has certified the client for interoperability and Cisco says that WAAS Mobile transparently supports other connectivity-oriented clients on the workstation, including Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPN, IPsec VPN, and wireless/cellular access clients. WAAS Mobile is not integrated within these clients directly today in a single software package. Cisco has stated that this integration may be considered in the future, however.

The Cisco WAAS family supports a range of optimization techniques including session-based persistent Lempel-Ziv (LZ) compression and TCP optimization (selective acknowledgement), window scaling, large initial windows, adaptive buffering, adaptive congestion avoidance and connection re-use. In addition, WAAS Mobile supports TCP optimization (using an intelligent UDP-based optimized transport and similar optimizations as listed above), session-based persistent LZ compression, and data deduplication.

Cisco WAAS provides caching capabilities at the object level and at the byte level. Data redundancy elimination provides variable-length content indexing for deduplication. All forms of caching can be applied via policy, and a robust default policy is pre-defined to minimize complexity. Cisco says that its caching is transparent to the user.

One recent change to WAN optimization controller functionality is the emergence of application-specific optimization techniques. The Cisco WAAS family provides a broad array of application-specific optimization techniques supporting Windows file services acceleration, Windows print services acceleration , UNIX file services acceleration, Microsoft Exchange acceleration, Web services acceleration, SSL-encrypted traffic acceleration, and Windows Media over Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) video acceleration.

WAAS Mobile provides similar protocol support, as well as file-aware, content-aware and protocol-aware object compression. A multitude of acceleration techniques are used, including object data and metadata caching, request multiplexing, read-ahead, write-behind and connection re-use. Cisco IOS provides application-specific optimization for VoIP through QoS (fragmentation and interleaving, as well as header compression) and multicast for video.

For more, read all the sections in our guide:

About the author:
Dr. Jim Metzler, principal at Ashton Metzler and Associates, is a widely recognized authority on network technology and its business applications. In more than 28 years of experience, Jim has helped numerous vendors refine product and service strategies and has helped enterprises evolve network infrastructures. He has directed and conducted market research at a major industry analyst firm and run a consulting firm. Jim holds a Ph.D. in numerical analysis from Boston University. He is co-author of the book Layer 3 Switching: A Guide for IT Professionals (Prentice Hall).

This was first published in February 2010

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