Haseeb Budhani, chief product officer at Infineta Systems (www.infineta.com), says:

The “killer app” for WAN optimization ten years ago was file access and sharing. Businesses were tired of maintaining file servers and domain controllers in each branch, and began consolidating file server farms into regional data centers. As soon as file servers were removed from the branch, employee productivity began falling. This was a direct result of protocol (CIFS and TCP) inefficiencies, or a lack of bandwidth between the branch and the data center. Looking back, it was WAN optimization solutions from the likes of Riverbed, Bluecoat and Cisco that helped server consolidation strategies reach fruition.

WAN optimization is now a must-have component of branch infrastructure for verticals as diverse as financial services, semi-conductor and legal. Buying WAN optimization equipment is like buying a branch router for many businesses now – both are on the checklist when IT is bringing a new branch or a new application online.

Today, the “killer app” for WAN optimization is data protection. Out of sheer necessity, and because of information retention mandates, businesses are investing in out-of-region data centers where they can make periodic copies (through high-speed replication and backups) of all critical content to insure themselves against disasters:

  • Financial services companies are required to keep all customer records and trading information safe in a remote data center, which could be as far as 2,000 miles away.
  • Cloud providers are expected to guarantee strict data retention and availability SLAs to their customers by maintaining one or more copies of all customer data in remote locations.
  • Health care companies must store all medical record updates for patients (including large X-Ray or MRI files) in remote data centers to protect against disasters.

At the same time, businesses are trying to reduce costs by consolidating data centers. The U.S. federal government has announced a plan to close 800 data centers by 2015 (1) . A number of companies such as Microsoft have also announced data center consolidation plans. Unless organizations can ensure that the requisite WAN connectivity is complemented with WAN optimization designed to address inter-data center pain points, fewer, larger data centers will adversely impact data protection strategies because more data will now need to be moved, farther.

When it comes to a comprehensive strategy to protect data, many enterprise data centers just aren’t ready. Either they are too far apart for native transport and replication protocols to function at optimum levels, or there isn’t enough WAN capacity available between the sites to support the high replication/backup traffic rates.

So what options do businesses have?

  1. Keep buying more bandwidth – Depending on the distance between data centers, this tactic sometimes ends up delivering little to no value.
  2. Protect less data – With data storage requirements doubling every two years , this strategy increases the risk of major economic impact in case of a disaster.
  3. Adopt next-generation WAN optimization solutions – High-capacity WAN optimization solutions virtually creates more bandwidth (through data reduction techniques) and mitigates the impact of WAN latency (through transport and protocol level optimization techniques).

WAN optimization technologies have had a transformative impact on businesses since their introduction almost a decade ago, when they helped simplify the branch IT infrastructure by enabling hub and spoke designs. Today, IT and network architects need to look at the next generation of WAN optimization solutions that are specifically designed to accelerate all traffic between a mesh of data centers at multi-Gigabit speeds. WAN optimization will be essential as businesses start building private clouds that span multiple data centers, and when they start carrying out VM migrations between data centers to better utilize resources in remote locations. Such levels of data mobility will require high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity that is currently difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee between data centers.

Businesses that leverage next-generation WAN optimization solutions will succeed in transforming data centers from storage and compute silos into nodes in a larger network fabric where data is highly available and eminently mobile.

1. Forrester Research, Inc. May 2010. “The Future of Data Center Wide-Area Networking.”