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23 April 2008

WAN Optimization - A Cookie With Your Morning Coffee

Today, I went to Second Cup Cafe to get some coffee before going to work, the guy there asked me if I want Cookie with my Coffee. The single Cookie there is for 5 EGP, while a pack of Boreo (Egyptian clone of Oreo) anywhere else is much cheaper than this. The point is, we all like cookies, but no one will ever go to such Cafe to get a Cookie for 5 EGP, so their only way to sell it, is by selling it along with a Cup of Coffee or Cappuccino.

This is exactly the case with WAN Optimizers. Ehmmm, I think I have to describe what a WAN Optimizer or WAN Accelerator is first. During the pre-historic ages of Computing, there were a creature called Main-Frame, and people used to sit on dummy terminals connected to those Main-Frames. So, as you see, the processing power was centralized in one location. Later on, after the Computing Ice Age, the earth was inhibited by PC's and the trend then was having distributed environment, we started to see Client-Server applications then, the the computing power was shared among them. Later on, we began to see Web 2.0 applications, and Virtualization, and the world decided to go back to the consolidated environment, where people sit on dummy terminals - this may be a simple Web Browser on their PC or even Mobile Phone - connected to a Server running VMWare and acting as your Mail-Server, CRM, Office Applications, you name it. During these stages the Data Centres were also moving back and forth from Centralized locations to Distributed Environment, then back to Centralized Location again. And since people are now in the phase of consolidating all the servers into a single location - let's say the Head Quarter - in order to reduce the IT cost and such stuff, the WAN links connected the disparate branches to the HQ are getting occupied with more and more traffic. And people in those branches are expecting the remote servers response to be as quick as if they were sitting on the same LAN. And that's why many companies started to develop WAN Optimizers as a way to solve these problems. A WAN Optimizer mainly compress and/or cache the data sent across the WAN link in order to save bandwidth, they also do some quality of service on such traffic, and try to optimize some protocols that were designed to work in the LAN environment, in order to adapt them to work on WAN links, which are known for their high delay.

Back to our Coffee and Cookie story, WAN Optimizers are just like the Cookies in Second-Cup, we are like them, and we know that we need to deploy them in our network, but as soon as we get into the process of buying them and paying money, we start to think twice and may be three times, especially that such products are really pricey and the CXO's sometimes are not able to see their value to their environment. That's why the key players started to offer them as extra modules or add-on's to other products. And the best product to plug the WAN Optimizer in is your WAN Router, they are already there on the WAN links connecting your branches, so it really makes sense to plug some hardware in the router to do some optimization to your traffic. And that's why Cisco and Juniper - the two key players in both WAN Optimization and Routing - decided to offer them both as an all-in-one box. Riverbed on the other hand is one of the market leaders in WAN Optimization, and they have a very good product, but unfortunately those guys do not have their own routers, so they decided to partner with Secure Computing - they make enterprise gateway security solutions - and have Secure Computing's security products running on top of Riverbed's WAN Optimizers (RiOS).
According to Secure Computing, the partnership will be two-phased. First, the vendors will jointly offer solutions through select channel partners to address both WDS and Web security for companies that want to boost application performance on the WAN and secure their Internet gateways.
Phase two will involve Secure Computing's Secure SnapGear firewall technology, its SmartFilter reputation-based Web filtering and its TrustedSource global reputation based anti-spam technology being offered as a software module that can run on Riverbed's RiOS Services Platform (RSP). Secure Computing said running on RSP ties together the two vendors' solutions into a single hardware platform, the Steelhead appliance. The mash-up lets users deliver virtualized edge services for branch offices.
Source: ChannelWeb, Secure Computing, Riverbed Team For Secure WAN Optimization.
This is a smart move, but how many customers are willing to deploy security solutions across their private WAN links. Come on, it's sad but true that most of the customers nowadays are having perimeter security solution only.

By the way, there is another player in this field that I forgot to mention, BlueCoat, these guys are really brilliant, they used to have Web Caches, but later on the Caches technology started to die, so they tweaked their product and started to market it as a WAN Optimizer sometimes, a Remote Access and SSL-VPN solution some other times, and may be an Application Layer Security or even a UTM too. So believe me, those guys do not need to integrate their WAN Optimizers with any other products, you can simply tell them your needs, and they will present their appliance to you as the ultimate solution that can solve all your problems and the pill that can heal all your pains. I even was surprised when I knew that they are going to acquire Packeteer, do they really need them? Anyway they may make use of the Customer Base and add Packeteer's QoS features on top of their one-stop-box.

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