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Does cloud make WAN optimisation redundant?

01 Mar 2011

It is no secret that cloud computing is a hot topic right now, in fact, according to Gartner’s recent survey of 2,014 CIOs, cloud computing ranked number one in the list of the top 10 technology priorities for 2011, outranking mobile technologies, business intelligence and collaboration. Interestingly, both virtualisation (2) and networking (6) were also strongly represented on that list.With cloud computing becoming such a focus, Telecommunications Review asked my thoughts on whether the cloud made WAN optimisation redundant. My answer: nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when it comes to cloud services, WAN optimisation is more important than ever.Closing the branch office gapWhen talking to companies about where their users experience pain and frustration regarding their networking solution, one of the most common issues is the divide between the user experience in the company headquarters and that available in the field. Whether it is network performance, latency, or reliability, the feeling is often that central networks infrastructures work well in locations close to the data centre, but users experience difficulties once they base themselves in their organisation’s branch offices. Traditionally, one of the most successful ways that enterprises have addressed these problems is through WAN optimisation.WAN optimisation has been a growing technology for some time. In the course of the last decade the technology has transformed from simple bandwidth management, adding WAN acceleration to drive growth for early adopters. The most recent technology includes a mix of WAN acceleration techniques based on network conditions, data flows and application mix, which dynamically tunes the system as these variables change - ensuring optimal WAN performance at all times.The increasing branch office burdenAs infrastructures begin to make the migration into the cloud, the big change that we are seeing is how traditional user pain points are expanding – suddenly everywhere is a branch office. Because cloud infrastructure resides, by its very nature, outside of the enterprise headquarters, the added level of separation, akin to the conventional distance between a branch office and HQ, essentially increases the number of branch offices the IT departmenthas to deal with. Even the headquarters, inclusive of the IT department, is now essentially a branch office.Therefore the problems that affected branches due to their distance from the data centre now extend to headquarters as well. The further away from the data centre, the bigger the performance challenges, especially with large volumes of data. Suddenly latency has become a large issue, which will only be accentuated as technologies with higher bandwidth requirements, such as video, become more prevalent in Australian corporate life.In Australia, we find ourselves in a unique predicament. The country’s distributed, proportionally sparse population and large geography impact significantly on available infrastructure. More densely populated regions, like the US, have the appropriate cloud economics to support several regional cloud data centres in-country. However, Australia and New Zealand’s smaller economic clout, allied to its unpopulated wide open spaces, will likely lead to the consolidation of cloud data centres in relatively few major capitals. Cloud data centres will be limited, again effectively increasing distance between data and users.Far from reducing the need for WAN optimisation technologies, the inherent issues in the local cloud market have therefore actively increased the requirement for flexible, dynamic WAN optimisation.The future is virtualWhile cloud computing is keeping CIOs and network administrators busy today, it is looking apparent that the networking infrastructure of tomorrow will be virtual. Not only encompassing WAN optimisation, virtual networking of this sort will include application delivery controllers, security provisions and dynamic load balancing at its core.But virtual networks and cloud are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, virtual networking provides a truly dynamic data centre environment, which responds automatically to the peaks and troughs of cloud capacity and demand. This approach to data centre design and networking maps directly the economics of the cloud for service providers and we therefore expect Cloud Providers to be at the forefront of this new wave in virtualisation.This past year, we saw the emergence of virtual network appliances from many networking vendors and, in 2011, we will see architects leverage the flexibility of this new category of products in their data centre designs. This has implications for both the Cloud Provider internally, and, importantly for their customers. This dynamic data centre design will be the first step for many enterprises in unlocking their workloads from single locations to enable workload distribution across multiple data centres internally, as well as in moving towards infrastructure-as-a-service cloud offerings, based on virtual networks.Choosing the right WAN solutionWe would recommend enterprises look at a number of features when making a decision on their WAN software. Ensuring your solution delivers increased WAN throughout and improved application response times for all applications, across the breadth of environments and conditions represented in your organisation, is key. Two often-overlooked considerations to keep in mind are:

  1. Focus on the applications and protocols that are important in your network, both today and into the future. Rather than testing the complete list of known protocols, focus on the handful of protocols that are most important in your environment
  2. Be mindful of your short to medium term application and desktop strategies as these can dramatically change the protocol mix in your network and therefore impact your selection of a WAN optimisation technology.
Application and protocol acceleration is the part of WAN optimisation that improves user performance. However, it’s the mix of acceleration and platform services that fully enables server consolidation and the cost savings that WAN optimisation can deliver.If cost savings are a driving factor for your organisation, take care to enable not just acceleration but also delivery of the other branch IT services that your servers currently distribute. Ultimately this will be the part of the solution that delivers the cost savings.Preparing for a future in the cloudsCloud is a technology that is here to stay. Moving to the cloud brings potential cost and flexibility gains, but also "moves” the data further away from many users. WAN optimisation has proven itself as the technology to address this challenge. As companies invest heavily in cloud and its allied technologies, rather than make WAN optimisation redundant, it will drive further adoption as smart CIOs realise that user experience, and so adoption, will be the defining factor in the success or failure of a cloud strategy.