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WAN optimization: Network vs. application layer optimization

Larry Cormier, SVP of marketing for Silver Peak Systems | Dec. 6, 2011
The application layer of the Open System Interconnection (OSI) stack has long been regarded as a focal point for wide area network (WAN) optimization. Efforts to optimize application delivery were centered here because the pain was rooted in optimizing only a handful of specific applications at branch or remote offices.

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The application layer of the Open System Interconnection (OSI) stack has long been regarded as a focal point for wide area network (WAN) optimization. Efforts to optimize application delivery were centered here because the pain was rooted in optimizing only a handful of specific applications at branch or remote offices.

But the problem has become broader. There are too many applications, platforms and versions of applications that need to be accounted for, and the list continues to grow. It has become clear we require a different approach. IT organizations must not only deploy WAN optimization to recoup valuable bandwidth for specific applications, but must deploy a solution that cost-effectively optimizes the entire application environment now and in the future, and do it without increasing network infrastructure complexities.

The network experts responsible for the fast, reliable and secure delivery of applications across the WAN understand the need for optimization tools that supports all traffic types, not just certain types. They want complete control and visibility into the business-critical applications as well as the not-so-critical apps. The point is that every application is, or should be, present in the enterprise for a reason, and it's important to realize that each has the potential of adversely affecting the network.

To understand this, one needs to look at underlying protocol support. While the lion's share of network "pain" has traditionally been with TCP applications, the number of business-critical applications that are non-TCP based is growing. Voice and video come to mind, as well as desktop virtualization (VDI). If a particular WAN optimizer doesn't support the non-TCP applications, it simply bypasses that traffic. This alone should set off red flags for any network professional.

Then there are other applications like disaster recovery, storage virtualization and data replication where breakthrough technologies like EMC VPLEX go beyond the TCP-based communication. There are also the growing number of proprietary protocols and custom applications many enterprises rely on to run their business, including customer enterprise resource planning (ERP) and communication applications.

For any of these situations, the network professional doesn't want to have to tell the WAN optimization vendor how the custom or proprietary apps work, they just want them to work.

For application-centric WAN optimizers to solve today's emerging challenges, the answer isn't as simple as it used to be. Today, these vendors need to apply "plug-ins" for every application the customer wants to optimize. This is not only complex given the ever-growing set of applications, but also presents challenges with regard to the dynamic nature of the applications. The most common example: If the software or application vendor makes a change to the app, the application-centric WAN optimization vendor most update the plug-in to support it.

 

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