Mobile Workforce Stresses Need for WAN Optimization

By RP Siegel
Credit: ddpavumba via

Workers toting laptops, smartphones, or tablets can access needed information no matter where they are, using 4G or Wi-Fi, be it at a client’s location, on the road, or even at home. It gives workers what they need to do their jobs more effectively. But many businesses, strapped with budget constraints, are hitting the wall, with suddenly overburdened servers and wide area networks (WAN).

This trend owes much to the data-intensive bandwidth eating applications like voice over IP (VOIP), and cloud-based applications that have become increasingly popular. Jon Oltsik, principal analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group said, “As users are increasingly separated from their data, performance issues in delivering data over the WAN can lead to a significant reduction in worker productivity.”

This is echoed by Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at Yankee Group Research, who said, “You can create a situation where the person just won't work remotely because the experience is so poor.”

We’ve all had the experience of waiting too long for a screen to refresh. Considering how much money companies are investing in mobile applications, it only makes sense to do what is needed to ensure that employees, and customers, can get through in a timely manner.

In a survey commissioned by WAN optimization vendor Riverbed Technology, 40 percent of employees said they would do more work remotely if their business files or software would load more quickly. Many of these workers are relying on Virtual Private Networks or VPNs which utilize the Internet, but require additional overhead to keep them secure.

Chris Silva, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. said that many of the “live apps like VoIP, are extremely latency sensitive and cease to function when a saturated WAN link is their only route to the larger network.”

To make things worse, many companies have been consolidating their data centers for a number of good reasons, but an unintended consequence of this can be that they are relocated farther from mobile workers, which has adversely impacted their VPN experience.

So how can companies increase the performance of their wide-area networks (WAN) without breaking the bank?

Relocating data centers closer to mobile workers would be one way, though that would be extremely expensive. Fortunately a more cost-effective solution is WAN optimization.

WAN optimization can potentially achieve the following:

  1. bandwidth reduction through de-duplication, (i.e. eliminating redundant requests);
  2. reducing latency through streamlining and network protocol optimizations, and
  3. further latency mitigation through application-specific optimizations, where demanding application protocols and unique behaviors are addressed.

These relatively simple steps can reduce bandwidth requirements by up to 98 percent which can improve performance as much as 50 to 100 times.

Improved performance, however, cannot come at the expense of security, especially considering the amount of traffic passing over wireless networks. Additional security does not come without a cost in performance.

Gartner analysts Andrew Lerner and Neil Rickard advised, “Network architects should revise WAN architectures to improve performance for external cloud applications and resources. While Internet VPNs and Ethernet services will play a greater role in the enterprise WAN over the next two to four years, it will largely be as part of a hybrid network, blended with MPLS service to ensure delivery of the performance, availability, and feature functionality that businesses desire.”

MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) is a standards-approved technology for speeding up network traffic flow while making it easier to manage.

Riverbed recently added simplified management of hybrid MPLS networks to its array of WAN optimization solutions including:

  • WAN optimization appliances that accelerate application and data transfer over wide area and hybrid networks.
  • Steelhead software delivering WAN optimization to data centers while the mobile version does the same for laptop users.
  • WAN optimization management providing a centralized, web-based interface to deploy, configure, manage and troubleshoot Steelhead deployments.

Riverbed was recently named one of Network World’s top 10 most powerful network management companies.

Another vendor providing WAN optimization solutions on a global scale is Boston-based Exinda. The company recently helped creative ad agency Leo Burnett enhance is operations across the Middle East. Adam Davision, Exinda’s VP EMEA sales, offered this perspective:

“WAN optimization and application assurance is increasingly important for many enterprises. As enterprise increasingly takes advantage of remote working, and with greater amounts of critical data being transferred across networks, businesses need to ensure that their networks are operating as efficiently as possible and are not being stretched to capacity. Our policy based WAN optimization intelligently applies acceleration and containment based on the priorities of the business.”

One happy customer, Sami Mneimneh, regional network and infrastructure director for Leo Burnett, said, “Several key applications have been successfully optimized. We have managed to achieve between 30 percent to 70 percent reduction in file transfer time, depending on the file type, plus great improvements in remotely accessing SQL databases which is a critical function across the entire business.”

Another supplier, Circadence, offers what it calls the MVO WAN Optimization Suite that is also a hardware/software combination that utilizes a patented optimization protocol that “tunnels through network congestion.” The company warn against pitfalls that could include cost and complexity, limited or erratic performance increases, and potential security gaps.

New wrinkles in the WAN optimization business are emerging. One of them is cloud based system which utilizes a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This optimizes everything except the first and last legs of the data journey. Another is the consideration of quality of service (QoS) software, which prioritizes mission-critical traffic. New cloud-based services are now vying for attention along with voice and video.

Finally there is path selection or path optimization. This entails routing the most bandwidth-hungry traffic (assuming it is of a priority nature) through the network links best able to service them. Based on an analysis of network traffic, it could mean realigning bandwidth investments to eliminate bottlenecks.

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