Do you WANt to optimize?

WAN optimization can help a wide range of organizations improve the efficiency of their networks, boosting performance and reducing costs.

The explosion of corporate data and rich media has strained LANs and WANs alike, but with the latter it can be particularly costly to accommodate the new demands. That fact has given rise to a host of new WAN optimization technologies.

These solutions squeeze more out of WAN links by doing everything from eliminating redundant transmissions to staging data in local caches, compressing and prioritizing data and streamlining chatty protocols.

IDC says the technologies can save companies tens of thousands of dollars per 100 users in hardware, software and bandwidth costs. Simultaneously, businesses can reduce IT operations costs and increase user productivity.

In use, WAN optimization tools can speed up bulk data transfers to improve disaster recovery capabilities, improve response times for interactive applications such as databases, reduce bandwidth costs, and present the opportunity to centralize file storage and consolidate servers. Some analyst firms say the tools can decrease link utilization 40 to 80 percent through caching and compression. Tack on the time-savings and flexibility that result from choosing optimization over WAN replacement, and the return on investment (ROI) is readily apparent.

Users WANt to see the benefits

The improvements from optimization are even visible to users who may not understand the technology behind it. Users may experience:

-- Faster file accessibility: Due to caching, someone that utilizes the same files repeatedly will be able to access them more quickly because only new data must be saved and retrieved, rather than having to reload the full document.

-- Increased speed between multiple office locations: WAN solutions maximize network speed between remote locations, accelerating file transfers and network-based communications, such as e-mail.

-- Improved performance of "non-affected" applications: Applications that are not directly affected by optimization solutions appear to run more smoothly or faster because bandwidth previously used for other processes can now be dedicated to non-affected operations. For example, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other streaming media applications will operate more reliably.

-- More reliable and faster data recovery: Crashed servers and applications can take a significant amount of time to recover. Optimization's ability to increase network response time enables users to rapidly regain access to critical applications, increasing productivity.

IT pros WANt to know

WAN optimization is just beginning to gain popularity, and as more IT executives start to consider it as an option they must assess their current capabilities and systems to determine if optimization is the right path for their business.

First, assess the goals and needs of the network to determine the makeup of the traffic. Gauge the bandwidth needs of the network and if optimization will free enough bandwidth to meet demands. Determine if the network needs to store localized files, if file caching is necessary, and establish a level of acceptable redundancy. Additional consideration should be given to the needs of each individual office, the affect optimization may have on their business and the growth plan for several years into the future.

Once the network needs have been identified, size the appliances to meet the needs of the business, with the option for scalability. Optimization appliances can meet the needs of any business, from engineering firms to financial institutions to advertising agencies, whether the organization's goal is to access large files or to enable a large number of users.

Finally, implement the optimization solution. While WAN optimization solutions are not complex, they are not as easy to integrate as a typical switch or router. They are high-end appliances that must be implemented correctly in order to be effective. It is beneficial to seek vendor support for the implementation process, and many manufacturers offer full installation.

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