Research: WAN Optimization

Mar 12, 2010


WAN Optimization: Adoption Holds Steady, Despite Advances

Packet loss on a WAN is inevitable, and when it occurs it can be devastating for applications. The increasing volume of voice and video services, enormous digital files, and critical enterprise applications moving across wide-area pipes has some IT organizations we work with scrambling. Latency introduced between client and server, lack of bandwidth, and the chattiness of protocols not optimized for the WAN all result in potentially poor performance. Meanwhile throughput is still expensive, as is the effort to provision WAN links—and adding more bandwidth is no guarantee of improvement, anyway.

It was against this backdrop that we decided to take a new snapshot of attitudes toward WAN optimization appliances, which help IT make the most of existing wide-area pipes. In October 2008, 344 business technology professionals responded to our first InformationWeek Analytics WAN Optimization survey; in February 2010, 585 weighed in. Trends revealed include an increasingly mature WAN optimization market, with users generally accepting the usefulness of the technology but still looking for ways to apply it effectively it in their organizations. The  biggest change in the IT landscape since our previous survey has been the consolidation of servers using virtualization; this has irrevocably altered the landscape in terms of WAN use and the delivery of WAN optimization appliances. The advent of desktop virtualization and cloud computing, technologies that were not on the average CIO’s radar screen in our last survey, play more minor roles, for now, though VDI could soon loom larger in WAN slowdowns.

Improved client/server app performance is by far the top driver for adoption of WAN optimization technology today—cited by 74% of our 2010 survey respondents using these products—followed by improving large file transfers (43%) and managing real-time traffic (42%). Because WAN optimization systems use data compression and deduplication to decrease the volume of bits sent over the WAN, applications become more responsive; protocol optimization can also reduce the amount of back-and-forth chatter. Another trend favoring this technology is our growing reliance on WAN technologies to interconnect geographically dispersed offices and people. Remote users are just as demanding of snappy application response as those in HQ.

Still, despite these drivers, there’s a persistent perception of WAN optimization as a special-use technology. When we asked respondents at companies not optimizing about their reasoning, 58% said they don’t see a need, a slight  nudge up from the 54% answering that way in 2008. The same number across both surveys, 21%, say the technology is too costly. Our take: Web-based applications are increasingly important, while many enterprises are working to consolidate data centers and other bandwidth-intensive functions like backups; both are exerting downward pressure on WAN optimization adoption.

The good news for vendors is that in 2010, just 8% say they have doubts about the technology’s effectiveness, down from 17% in our last poll, and only 4% say they would not recommend WAN optimization to their peers, down from 7% in 2008. As we’ll discuss in this report, success rates will vary greatly from environment to environment based on the types of packets transmitted, applications in use and causes of bandwidth constraints. Testing before  committing to a product is crucial, as is having a clear picture of your plans around compute resources delivered as services over the Internet.

Survey Name: InformationWeek Analytics WAN Optimization Survey
Survey Date: February 2010
Region: North America
Number of Respondents: 585

Research Report