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WAN optimisation Day Three: Here come the bad guys

Ian Yates

In the security appliance world the latest acronym is UTM - unified threat management, an attempt to nail all the major security issues with one high-level appliance. Exinda Networks has adopted a similar approach with its WAN optimisation products called UPM - unified performance management. "We've seen this consolidation and we've said what really differentiates Exinda from a lot of other vendors in the space is that we've been able to fully integrate four key areas and call it unified performance management or UPM," says Exinda's Con Nikolouzakis.

Nikolouzakis also believes you need to know your bandwidth enemy before you can begin to eliminate the problem. "If you don't have an idea on what's running on your network, it's the old adage if you can't see it, you can't manage it," says Nikolouzakis. "Especially now that there's all these web applications, pod casting, music downloads, software updates, voice over IP, peer-to-peer services, music streaming. A lot of these applications run on HTTP, but you can't treat HTTP as an application - it's a transport."

The next string to Exinda's bow is application response measurements. According to Nikolouzakis many vendors can promise to reduce file transfer overheads fivefold, but they can't relate that to actual savings to the user because end users don't really care about bandwidth capacity - they care about response times. "Another key area that we focus on is response times so we can give them objective views

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on how much better the network is performing," says Nikolouzakis.

"Area number three in our UPM is WAN optimisation, that's your traditional QoS, policy management, layer seven classification and optimisation, prioritisation and those sort of technologies and then fourth area is application acceleration where we do things like TCP acceleration, data caching and streamlining, so we call that WAN memory and CIFs acceleration which is you know the WAF stuff. We believe that only through a consolidation of those four key areas, can you really provide the optimum WAN optimisation strategy. We've called that unified performance management," says Nikolouzakis.

"You know when you look at the way that we run our proof of concepts, it's very much the first week is all about analysis of traffic and applications on the network," says Nikolouzakis. "Getting into detail on exactly what's running there because what we find is it's great to accelerate your business critical applications and you need to do that, but the majority of problems we find on networks are due to mis-configuration or misuse of the network and the only way you'll find that out is if you have visibility."

Other vendors are also heading down the path of providing several technologies inside their WAN optimisation appliances which begs the question, in future will these features just be built-in on every enterprise router? "The nature of IT is we're continuing to see a collapsing of disparate technologies into a single platform," says Juniper's Scott Janney. "We're already seeing it in the security space. As security devices get more and more functionality, I think it's natural to assume that we're going to see this type of thing happen on the general infrastructure side as well."

"Layer two, layer three devices that include modules if you like for WAN optimisation as well as intrusion prevention or firewalls, or SSL or TCP quality, VPN capability etc. I think the admin benefits there of having a single device are pretty obvious. I think the sooner - well the companies that do it well, I think there's only a couple out there that are really going to be able to do that, are really going to be able to give something unique to the market." Janney also believes that WAN optimisation offerings must go well beyond the old standard of only providing compression. "Any best of breed solution in this area should offer a pretty comprehensive set of features that cover compression and caching, protocol acceleration, quality of service and application control features," says Janney. "Also, comprehensive, statistical monitoring and reporting capability so you can really see what's happening on the network."

Tomorrow: Packet sniffing fun