Virtual WAN optimization could speed public cloud adoption

When going to the cloud, you could send data across town or across the ocean. Distance affects performance; virtual WAN optimization tools can help.

The Virtual WAN optimization appliance is already used in the four corners of the earth -- remote Afghan mountaintops, construction sites in rural Africa, offshore oil rigs and cargo ships crossing the Pacific Ocean. Next up on its itinerary: the public cloud.

Dutch telecommunications provider Carrier 2 Carrier Telecom B.V. (C2C) provides Internet connectivity to remote sites operated by government, manufacturing, oil and gas, and maritime organizations. Last year, C2C began using Silver Peak Systems, Inc.’s VXOA WAN optimization software, which is bundled as a virtual appliance.

When you’re using the cloud, you don’t necessarily know where the data center is -- across town or across the ocean.

Rick Tinsley, CEO of Silver Peak

In an initial test, C2C used the virtual appliance to enhance satellite-based Internet connectivity for a military compound in Afghanistan, and now the company uses it at several locations across the Middle East and Africa.

Silver Peak’s role -- like that of other WAN optimization players such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Riverbed Technology -- is to make the most of relatively low-bandwidth, high-cost satellite links, said Kees Jan Mink, general manager at C2C.

“The goal is to do as much with that bandwidth as possible,” Mink said. The WAN optimization software can improve performance anywhere from 50% to 400%, he added, depending on how well an application responds to WAN optimization techniques like deduplication, compression and traffic shaping.  

But where Silver Peak VXOA really stands out is the availability of its software as a virtual appliance.

“Remote sites are sometimes very hard to get to,” Mink said. With virtualization, C2C can provide voice, data, billing and acceleration on just two servers running VMware Inc.’s hypervisors, compared with as many as six servers for competitive offerings. Further, virtual appliances can be controlled remotely from C2C’s own network operations center; adding capacity is a simple matter of adding a software-based license key.

“The logistical hassle of getting the boxes in and out is just so much easier,” Mink said.

From the boonies to the public cloud
Virtual WAN optimization appliances aren’t just useful for organizations trying to manage far-flung remote locations. They’re also a potential fit for companies eyeing the public cloud.

“When you’re using the cloud, you don’t necessarily know where the data center is -- across town or across the ocean,” said Silver Peak CEO Rick Tinsley. “Depending on where the data center is, performance could be pretty underwhelming.”

In a trial with Terremark Worldwide, Inc., a managed and cloud services provider, Silver Peak ran workload tests with and without its WAN acceleration layer, and claims its VXOA delivered a 10× cloud performance improvement.

But just because a virtual WAN optimization appliance exists is no guarantee it will work in the public cloud.

Joe Skorupa, Gartner Inc., research vice president for networking and communications

To promote the public cloud use case, Silver Peak wants to convince public cloud providers to offer WAN optimization as an incremental service. Barring that, customers can simply upload the WAN optimization appliance to the cloud and run it themselves on the usual cadre of VMware, Hyper-V, Xen and KVM hypervisors, Tinsley said. The company offers VXOA with a cloud-friendly subscription licensing, and free trials are available from its new Virtual WAN Optimization Marketplace.

Compared to other Virtual WAN optimization appliances on the market, such as Riverbed’s Cloud Steelhead for Amazon EC2, Silver Peak has some advantages: Its go-to-market strategy, for one, plus the ability for VXOA to leverage the encryption capabilities of underlying Intel Corp. chips, said Joe Skorupa, Gartner Inc. research vice president for networking and communications.

But just because a virtual WAN optimization appliance exists is no guarantee it will work in the public cloud, Skorupa cautioned. Trying to run it in Amazon, for example, requires users to configure some “weird low-level routing stuff,” he said. Ultimately, “the end user needs to talk with the [WAN optimization] vendor to see what kind of cloud testing and integration work they’ve done.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, Executive Editor at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on Twitter.

This was first published in February 2012

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