Best Practices for WAN Optimization
As enterprise applications gradually moved from being hosted on localized servers at local offices to centralized hosted servers at the headquarter and data centers, it shifted the pressures and challenges on IT from maintaining a large number of distributed servers to making sure that a few servers in the data center keep operations running.. Although centralized hosted servers are less expensive to operate, the business cost of having key servers go down or inaccessible raise considerably. Simply put, if a main server goes down, all branch offices will suffer.
Besides server reliability, the second major factor that affects branch office performance is the WAN link becoming a bottle-neck in the connectivity between the branch and data center. In most cases the uplink speed of a branch office is much lower compared to the WAN connectivity speed of a headquarter office and will throttle down the connectivity speed between those two nodes to the slower of the links, in this case, the branch office WAN link. In some cases, higher bandwidth options for the branch office can be very costly or not available. The problem is more acute for multi-national enterprises as the non-uniformity of the WAN options available can easy become a very messy problem to deal with.
These problems forced the IT industry to develop new ways to optimize the WAN connection through WAN acceleration and Broadband Bonding (a new technique that bonds several Internet access lines into a single high-speed connection).
WAN acceleration, unlike the name suggests, doesn’t touch the WAN transport, but attempts to modify the bits flowing through the WAN pipe. The idea, simply put, is to minimize the number of bits that the application transmits to enhance the end-user experience. Some vendors in the space also added various protocol optimizations to add to the end-user experience (such as tuning TCP parameters etc.), which primarily fix the shortcomings of the ancient TCP protocol for very specialized new application requirements of recent years.
How can you reduce the amount of bits that you need to transmit over a WAN connection without breaking any of the required semantics? The answer is: caching and compression. The idea is, if an application requires the transmission of large files that are essentially replicas of each other with some minor differences, the logical method to add efficiency to that system is to simply cache the original file at the receiver side and then only transmit the delta of the new file, i.e. just the components that changed.
Know your traffic: It is important to have the correct diagnosis before implementing the solution. Analyzing and seeing the traffic types and patterns in your network is the first challenge that the IT manager faces. Understanding the traffic that is flowing through your network may be somewhat challenging depending on the parameter it depends, such as time of day, time of year etc. There are however tools and appliances that can help with this stage.
Know your network: Understanding the behavior of your network is important. The specs of the WAN connectivity can also be a moving target. Measuring and analyzing the capabilities and potential shortcomings of your WAN network is a step that will isolate and eliminate problems before any new WAN technology including WAN optimization or Broadband Bonding is deployed.
Research the options: An important step is to research and benchmark the options you have. There are quite a few vendors all having strengths in different parts of the landscape. So depending on your specific needs, a vendor that is not good on one aspect, still might be the best fit for your needs. Or in some cases, lowering the bits that flow through your WAN might not even be possible (for example if the data is already compressed or already encrypted) and you may look at options of adding more bandwidth to your WAN via Broadband Bonding appliances.
Roll out roadmap: Similar to any other IT implementation, the project should be mapped out into stages and every step should have its clear milestones and benchmarks. Especially in WAN optimization projects, it is important to clean up the implementation in the POC deployment prior to corporate level roll-out.
Close the loop: WAN technologies such as broadband bonding and WAN optimization directly touch the end-user and it is important to not loose contact with the real end goal, which is to optimize end-user experience. It is important to be in touch with end-users throughout the process to make sure the project is achieving its target goals.
Projects and applications that are affecting the WAN connectivity can be challenging, however the payoffs can also be significant. As servers move to data-centers and offices become thin terminals with connectivity to the applications servers, WAN optimization and building WAN bonding with high 9s availability will become a crucial element that IT teams cannot overlook.
Dr. Cahit Jay Akin is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, providing broadband products and solutions for a range of Internet applications. For more information, CLICK HERE