Part 3 of a three-part series
WAN optimization is a near-ubiquitous strategy for improving application performance across long-distance network links, whether that network is the Internet or a corporate WAN. It is also an effective way to improve performance without boosting bandwidth, decentralizing resources, or re-architecting the entire WAN infrastructure.
The process does not end once an optimization strategy and solution has been implemented, however. The next step is to plan for the future. For the most part, this means continually monitoring the activities and performance of the WAN long after the system has gone through initial pilot testing and is in general operation.
It is important to keep an eye on both the network and the WAN optimizers (that can provide lots of extra visibility into network and application usage patterns) and continue discussing application and network performance with users. Doing so will let IT discover whether anything on the WAN is still performing badly and whether changes in application usage lead to new performance problems.
Taking a close look at application usage across the network can also help IT spot problems in the making or identify applications that will cause problems if their use spreads. They can then work out a plan to circumvent problems and find a way to protect the performance of business-critical applications.
Avoiding MAPI mishaps
For example, while the messaging application programming interface (MAPI) protocol that is common to email can be effectively accelerated, the more robust applications may lead to an increased use of mail attachments for file sharing and therefore create problems for email systems and the systems administrators who are responsible for their operation.
When designing and implementing optimization or acceleration solutions, you have to be aware of the impact and implications on the network and the users – especially when planning for future upgrades and improvements.
Organizational optimization needs also change and evolve as the result of many factors aside from shifts in work habits. These may include:
- Adding voice and video to a network, or shifting to a virtual desktop delivery model. This can make WAN optimization a necessity for many organizations, since there is simply no other way to guarantee the requisite levels of performance. The optimization required -- with a focus on packet loss and latency mitigation, and graceful traffic shaping -- may be different from what the organization required before, which may have centered essentially on traffic volume reduction.
- Centralizing applications by moving them out of branch or regional offices and into primary data centers. This places applications further from end users, so optimization is often required to ensure continued good performance. However, the type of optimization required may be different and is not just focused on speeding up backups from regional server rooms to central data centers.
- Corporate mergers or acquisitions. This can introduce whole new classes of users and performance issues and further complicate matters by, for example, adding tricky file synchronization approaches to virtual desktop optimization.
When needs change dramatically, there is always the chance that the incumbent solution will no longer completely meet an organization's needs. A solution that is designed primarily for file synchronizations, for instance, won't be much good for managing video conferencing traffic, and vice versa. If the organization has to find a new solution, it must consider three options:
- Upgrade with the existing solution (if this is possible).
- Replace the existing solution.
- Layer on additional solutions -- an asymmetric traffic shaper to supplement compression, say, or a managed service to supplement in-house deployments.
The file acceleration antidote
If the need for a new kind of WAN optimizer (for example, file synchronization) is limited to a few locations, then an overlay optimization solution from the likes of Akamai may make more sense than deploying an internal solution. If accelerating virtual desktop delivery is the new problem, it may make sense to explore solutions from Wyse, Citrix or Expand that focus sharply on that problem. Using a managed solution may make sense if the need is restricted to locations not currently optimized and the organization wants to keep a tight rein on up-front expense and the burden on IT management.
In order to successfully maintain and fine-tune a WAN optimization deployment, you have to do three things: Watch performance, talk to users, and be consistent. It also helps to be data driven and flexible enough to take the next logical upgrade or improvement step when necessary.
If an organization carefully considers the optimization solutions applied to well-quantified WAN performance problems and then keeps a close eye on the evolution of those solutions, the network will be in good shape to withstand any new changes, applications or user demands that come down the road.
About the author: John Burke is a principal research analyst with Nemertes Research, where he focuses on software-oriented architectures and management isues.
Read part 1 in the series, Match WAN optimization, acceleration options to network needs
Read part 2 in the series, Careful pilot projects critical as WAN optimization takes flight