My first article on this subject was met with comments such as ‘monotonous’ and ‘too technical’ from some quarters and my immediate response was that this is a technology update website and that is what you will get. I can hear my good friends at Techzim mumbling some not-so-nice stuff!
My discussion in the first part was an overview of what the technology is all about and some of the benefits to businesses in Zimbabwe which have been suffering from underperforming connectivity solutions and inability to deliver key applications across the WAN. I will now go a step further and introduce some of the features of the products that are supposed to deliver Zimbabwean organizations to the promised land of lightning quick applications over the WAN and lowered bandwidth costs.
What should you look for?
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What should one look for really when choosing the best product to address the challenges discussed in the first article i.e. network latency having a severe impact on the performance of applications and underlying protocols and costly bandwidth upgrades? It all depends on the organisation’s environment and their individual requirements. What could be an issue at, say The Wattle Company in the Eastern Highlands, may not really be giving the network administrator at PLAN International sleepless nights simply because they are not going through the same network to connect their branches. Different vendors will offer different combinations of features and therefore it is imperative that as the managers we become responsible for delivering value to our organizations.
Generally you should consider the following capabilities as the minimum for any product that promises WAN optimization:
- Traffic management capabilities such as WAN QoS (Quality of Service) classification, enforcement or traffic shaping.
- Compression, caching and/or data deduplication or reduction capabilities.
- Generic protocol acceleration (for TCP or HTTP, for example).
- Application- or higher-level protocol-specific optimization features, such as acceleration of the Common Internet File System (CIFS) file-sharing protocol.
In Zimbabwe, where most organizations have suffered from product dumping-whereby local suppliers simply plug in appliances and leave the customer to ‘figure it out’ by themselves, it is very important that the customer’s choice considers the local supplier’s capability to install and support their solutions as well as the global reputation of the vendor they are supporting locally.
In addition, due to the need to minimize costs, the most ideal product is the one that can offer the capabilities discussed in part one of this discussion e.g. the ability to virtualise and encrypt data stored on these appliances, in one box.
All the above should be demonstrated through a trial in the customer’s environment so that the impact can be felt before the choice to purchase is made. We have numerous examples in Zimbabwe of ‘white elephant’ systems where organizations are sold so many benefits but when it comes to implementing the solution in their infrastructure the systems simply fail to meet the objectives. A success criterion should therefore be agreed upon even before the trial is conducted.
The experts’ opinion on WOC vendors
The image above illustrates Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization controllers as of June 2009. A full copy of Gartner’s report on this subject can be provided upon request (via the e-mail address provided at the end of this post).
The quadrant mentions some familiar names in technology such as Riverbed, Cisco, Juniper and Citrix. It only covers vendors that meet certain criteria and does not necessarily imply that these are the only vendors in the world that offer WAN optimization solutions. However, it must be mentioned that Gartner is an independent research body and their opinion is usually very objective.
I sincerely hope that I have opened up a number of people’s minds regarding the options that they can take in their attempts to address the evils associated with our WAN links in Zimbabwe. For any additional information on this subject which I have just scratched on the surface the reader can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org