Wide-area network (WAN) optimizatioN basically means maximizing bandwidth efficiency. It involves compressing data and providing quick access to certain protocols, which helps decrease the amount of communication on the network for common requests. Because of this, it is also sometimes referred to as WAN acceleration.

Some of the common functions are protocol optimization, application caching, bandwidth management and compression. The bandwidth and compression portions are the traditional benefits, and the others have almost become as important. All of these features help explain why WAN optimization keeps being requested as a WAN solution.

Beyond the basics, each product offering also provides its own set of additional features and functions that allow for users to tailor WAN optimization to their own unique needs. This is where things get complex and extend beyond the scope of contractors’ work, but knowing they are options increases one’s ability to work in the growing storage market.

Some of the major players in WAN optimization include Cisco (whose particular offering, WAAS, goes beyond WAN optimization), Riverbed, Packeteer, Juniper and Blue Coat. Others constantly appear. Knowing who the players are is important, since many times IT departments like to double-check interoperability, and knowing what products work with which others is part of the battle.

While WAN optimization may seem like a no-brainer for anyone with a WAN (who wouldn’t want increased speed?), it is not financially feasible for everyone. The return on investment seems to make it most beneficial for certain users.

Locations that support branches in addition to a primary site have shown a great interest in WAN optimization.This may be because optimizing one’s network increases the flow of information, and branch locations may slow down the overall speed.

Schools and government also are big users because branch locations generally require the same access as one would expect in a main site. Individual schools have hundreds or even thousands of users, all requiring the same applications to work. That means moving those applications from the main site to the branches needs to have a result that mimics a local area network (LAN) from a speed, accessibility and functionality standpoint.

Unfortunately, today’s powerhouse applications and increased bandwidth usages decrease network speed, which creates a need for WAN optimization. A proper WAN optimization solution should mean users do not need to purchase additional bandwidth, and thus, the delay of such purchases helps pay for the solution.

As applications toggle between being run on a LAN and a WAN, the optimization helps make that transition more seamless and aids in overall speed and productivity.

Perhaps one of the biggest boosts to WAN optimization relevance is the growing IT requirement known as compliance. Continually developing compliance and regulatory concerns, most of which mandate the storage, delivery and access of information, are further satisfied via WAN optimization, as it helps support the data backup aspect while simultaneously satisfying the data recovery portion.

Playing fair

Knowledge of WAN optimization is the first step for contractors to join the process. From that point, being able to assess the current status and functionality of a WAN can help a contractor assist in determining if WAN optimization is something the end-user should look into.

Contractors, most of whom continue to be hands-on when working with WANs, should learn WAN optimization, so they can take such requests into consideration. At the least, knowing what it is, being able to give end-users a brief description and being able to point them in right direction further adds to the contractor’s ability to provide exceptional service, maintaining the position as your customers’ contractor of choice.   EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.