Sales of devices for managing and speeding network traffic are booming at top integrators, but it’s not just the conventional remote office that needs them. The latest surge is driven by the explosion in tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.
“There is a huge uptake in demand for network optimisation solutions. It’s one of the fastest growing parts of the business,” says George Atrash, general manager of network optimisation at Dimension Data.
Instead of a desktop PC for every staff member, sitting on the same IP address in the same location, network managers need to deal with multiple computing devices per person, appearing and disappearing from the corporate network and downloading varying amounts at irregular times.
“In a mobile world you can’t predict where people will be connected,” says Ian Raper, Riverbed’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand.
Although users are keen to adopt mobile workstyles, IT departments have sometimes struggled to keep up, says Citrix’s Bede Hackney, director of product sales for Australia and New Zealand.
“A lot of IT departments are not making the leap in recognising that they need to have three or four nines (99.99 percent availability) in their remote access solution because if people start to rely on iPads and it falls over then they’re going to [struggle]. Remote access has gone from being best effort and nice- to-have to being mission critical. And it did that by stealth” through consumer adoption.
Smartphone kings Apple and Google (with its Android operating system) are not the only ones responsible for making networks much busier places. The introduction of IPv6 addresses has added a level of complexity, with the change to the length of IP addresses making it more difficult to manage devices.
Companies are also wanting to cater for visiting executives who want to use a guest network. Some are warming to the idea of allowing staff to bring in their own PCs.
“You’ve got so much rogue traffic going on you don’t know how you can manage that and the only way you can do that is network optimisation solutions,” Atrash says.
Managing mobile networks
Riverbed remains leader in network optimisation with more than 50 percent of the Asia-Pacific market, says analyst Frost and Sullivan. Raper says the vendor has been addressing the mobile market for some time but has been refining its go-to-market strategy. It has developed a software-based mobile version of its Steelhead appliance that sits on mobile devices and communicates with its counterpart hardware in the data centre.
Steelhead Mobile has been ported to versions of Microsoft Windows as well as the Mac. The software runs as a task on a notebook to store frequently used data and interact with other Steelhead appliances run on virtual machines or by cloud service providers and data centres.
Raper says small offices as well as mobile users don’t lose out on performance when using the software version instead of dedicated hardware.
“We feel that about five users in a remote site should get at least 90 percent of the benefit by running [Steelhead] on their laptop or desktop versus having an appliance.”
The mobile client demonstrates its return on value by showing how much data would have been sent on the WAN versus what was sent, and the percentage saving in cost. Raper says the lower data consumption is less important than the user experience, which is largely subjective. “Can I use my CRM or email and have the same experience as on a local network? That’s the metric that matters,” he says.
WAN acceleration makes more sense than the conventional workaround for slow VPN connections – downloading a file to the local hard drive on a laptop, making changes to the file, and then loading it back up again.
Raper says this workaround results in staff moving large amounts of data over the network to make small changes.
Instead of downloading and uploading the whole file, an employee using WAN acceleration could make the changes and save the document while it was sitting on the original server.
The workaround also runs the risk of creating multiple versions in several places if two people download a file at the same time.
Riverbed allows a business to load the software on all mobile devices and automatically allocate a smaller pool of licences according to the users that initiate mobile sessions first. Once a device is turned off it sends the licence back to the pool. On average, a business usually buys licences for half the number of its employees, Raper says.
“If you’re at home or in a hotel you can get the same experience over a VPN connection. It’s very convenient for those who want to jobshare or work from home or at a customer site.”
A hidden hurdle in the rush to mobile is security. Maintaining a secure network can place a huge strain on resources if a data centre is not set up to handle the extra connections required.
Mid-sized and enterprise companies are buying dedicated hardware to handle the volume of SSL transactions generated by large numbers of VPN connections by mobile devices such as iPads.
Citrix has been selling its Network Cloud Gateway to handle VPN connectivity to ensure the data centre can support users wanting to access their virtual desktops and corporate email.
“What they’ve realised now is that they can’t have a single point of failure,” Hackney says.
A bridge over virtualised servers While mobile users are causing headaches for networks now, cloud computing will raise further issues, whether private, hybrid or public. For example, how are you supposed to optimise a network for an application running in a virtual
machine in a third-party data centre? Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is becoming a popular replacement for in-house servers as a way to reduce hardware and management costs. However, handing over responsibility for running the application can make it harder to guarantee its delivery and performance on the networking side. Citrix claims it was the first vendor to virtualise its WAN acceleration appliance which can be deployed into an IaaS scenario. Citrix’s NetScaler Cloud Bridge performs two roles; it works to overcome the effects of latency and also creates a bridge between an on-premise server and an IaaS virtual machine.
This allows a company to shift an application during times of heavy demand to an IaaS service where it can draw on greater resources. While vendors such as VMware can perform similar operations, Hackney claims Citrix’s solution doesn’t require a workload to be rebuilt and optimised for a virtual environment beforehand.
“It’s highly likely your workloads were not designed to work” in a virtualised environment. “They are all designed to sit in the one data centre like they have for the past 50 years. You have to completely rebuild them or use this technology,” Hackney says.
Accelerating the cloud
The same issues in accelerating applications in infrastructure-as-a- service are even harder to resolve with software-as-a-service. For example, Riverbed’s technology only works when its software or hardware is running at the source and the destination.
Some SaaS providers such as Salesforce.com refuse to have network optimisation devices in their data centres, but vendors haven’t stopped trying to find ways around this. To give customers faster access to Salesforce.com and the like Riverbed has placed its Cloud Steelhead “within a millisecond or two” of SaaS providers’ data centres.
Amazon offers customers an optimisation service that loads an instance of Steelhead which is paid for on a time and usage model. The price for Amazon’s optimisation service is too high for SMEs though, Raper says.
Raper indicated that other cloud providers would roll out similar services in the near future. Network optimisation was a strong concern for cloud providers because “the biggest impediment they have is performance”. “Whattheycan’tget is performance on the network at the right price.”
Riverbed is also in talks with global content mirroring service Akamai to install its appliances in its data centres, which sit very close to the data centres of the major SaaS providers. The deal, due in the first quarter of 2012, will effectively give the vendor the ability to boost all the traffic from SaaS providers that passes through Akamai’s servers.
Akamai has not announced how it will charge for the service or what it will cost. Competitor Blue Coat has released its Cloud Caching Engine to tackle the issue of improving performance for SaaS applications.
The device sits in a branch office and accelerates cloud content by caching regularly accessed data from the SaaS application.
The vendor sold one device to a company which had discovered its staff had been avoiding updating Salesforce.com because it was taking too long to load pages on Salesforce.com’s website.
Using the caching engine increased performance to lower the load times to “a couple of seconds”, Rajeev Mitroo, Blue Coat’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, says.
Citrix’s Network Cloud Gateway also has a secondary role besides providing the processing grunt for encrypting many VPN connections. The Gateway provides single sign-on for cloud applications such as Salesforce.com and Citrix Gotomeeting which avoids the typical scenario where a user has one set of log-in credentials for the corporate network and another set for each software-as-a-service (SaaS) application.
“The last thing I want is to give Salesforce.com or Microsoft Office 365 access to my authentication directory. So Cloud Gateway creates a trust point in the middle,” says Hackney, who uses six SaaS applications at work.
“Instead of typing in a username and password into my browser I simply click on an icon for Salesforce.com which opens the browser and authenticates me transparently as a user.”
Following the right protocol
The shifting sands of technology have forced network optimisation vendors to change course when it comes to protocols. For years vendors spent huge amounts of R&D funds creating WAN protocols to accelerate Microsoft traffic in the
client-server environment, such as SIFS, MAPI and SMB v1 and v2. “Protocol acceleration is a deeply personal thing to an organisation because you care about the protocols that exist in your WAN,” Citrix’s Hackney explains.
However, the move to virtualised desktops and applications has seen the protocols shrink back into being data centre protocols, ironically the place from which they originated, Hackney says.
Companies buying network optimisation devices need to consider not just the protocols they are using but what they might use in the future, he adds. “If you talk about a private cloud or data centre model, the important thing is to understand the protocols that are traversing the WAN.
In the future they will most likely be ICA or other virtualised desktop delivery protocols.
“As a reseller or a customer the most relevant thing for selecting WAN optimisation is selecting the protocols relevant to me now and in the future and selecting a technology that accelerates those.”
Blue Coat has been focusing its efforts around video, which it sees as the next wave of content to replace “legacy traffic” on the SIF and MAPI protocols.
“Either learning management systems, live streaming or on-demand video, it’s becoming a large proportion of traffic,” Mitroo says. “It’s becoming more important for how organisations scale and cater for that growth in video traffic.”
The vendor has made several announcements around WAN optimisation including an update of the operating system and a new appliance that delivers gigabit throughput for data centres.
Blue Coat has invested more in its marketing strategy and brought on board a dedicated network optimisation solution manager.
The change in strategy recognised the opportunity in the market and was to answer the call from customers and partners,” Mitroo says. Hackney is convinced that virtual desktops and applications will “take over” from the client- server status quo because of the superior user experience. “From my own perspective the management benefits and the reduction in costs stack up. I no longer lug my laptop from the office. The flexibility of the virtual desktop allows me to access it from my iPad.”
Hackney says he doesn’t see SaaS applications driving massive amounts of traffic. But he does see the cloud leading to a returned focus on quality of service for networks. WAN optimisation grew out of quality-of-service demands eight years ago before it was replaced by acceleration and bandwidth management.
Now that SaaS is becoming mission critical, quality of service is coming back into vogue, Hackney says.
“I need to tell the difference between traffic going to Facebook and traffic going to Salesforce.com.”
Citrix is releasing version six of its WAN accelerator Repeater with application-level quality of service technology, brought across from an earlier acquisition, Deterministic Networks. “Being able to differentiate SaaS applications from other traffic is one of the key reasons we’re going down that path,” Hackney says.
Copyright © CRN Australia. All rights reserved.
Issue: 316 | July 2013
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