"Our customers don't need any hardware or software at all," Aryaka founder and CEO Ajit Gupta said in an interview. "It's a pure cloud service."
That's an impressive claim, because WAN optimization is all about processing data at each end of a link to reduce bandwidth consumption and improve performance. In particular, it relies heavily on block-based compression, a technique that reduces bandwidth requirements by replacing large chunks of data with pointers to a local cache. For best performance, the cache has to be near the client, which means either an appliance at the data center or branch office or (for mobile users) a program running on the user's laptop. There's no getting around the need for a cache and some hardware or software, so Aryaka skips block-based compression. "If you have a big enough pipe, you don't need caching and compression," Gupta said.
The Aryaka service is designed for a world in which data centers and most branch offices have fast and reliable Internet connections, reducing the need for compression or other optimization techniques for traffic over the business-class connection to the Internet. However, the Internet itself can still be slow and unpredictable, so Aryaka aims to bypass that with its own private network. The service is very similar to that offered by carriers like Akamai, except that Aryaka adds WAN optimization.
So how much optimization can Aryaka do without a box at the data center? According to the company, it can perform TCP optimization over an entire link even without dedicated hardware or software, as TCP is server-controlled. Over its own network, it applies proxy servers, quality-of-service, redundancy removal, and application-specific optimization. Customers with bandwidth-constrained branch offices also can install a hardware device to aid block-based compression, but Gupta said only 10% to 15% of sites require this.
Aryaka tells an impressive story, but the real proof will come in performance tests against the hardware WAN optimization vendors. Its biggest weakness looks like support for mobile users, who otherwise present among the greatest business case for cloud services. Even on 4G networks, laptop users often face bandwidth constraints and can benefit greatly from the software clients offered by WAN optimization vendors.
In its "Cool Vendors in Enterprise Communications and Network Services, 2011" report last month, Gartner noted that Aryaka could simplify WAN optimization deployment and operations, while predicting that the global carriers would likely start offering similar competing services. Another likely competitor is Akamai, whose partnership with Riverbed (also announced Tuesday at Interop) could provide a powerful alternative if WAN optimization as a service takes off.