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Virtually Clearing Cloud Initiatives Through WAN Optimization
By taking a network-centric approach, organizations achieve maximum scalability and flexibility

There is a storm rising in the midst of enterprise networks today. It builds quickly and overtakes unsuspecting companies as the popularity of virtual initiatives causes data volumes on their networks to swell to proportions too large to access efficiently over existing bandwidth. The challenge then becomes one of optimizing underlying network infrastructure in order to support the increased flow of traffic caused by the data surge.

Application virtualization, cloud computing and Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDIs) deliver enormous management and costs savings, but these benefits are offset when application performance hampers end user productivity. This often happens when virtual applications and desktops are delivered across a Wide Area Network (WAN). Optimizing the WAN and improving network stability is therefore paramount to ensuring companies meet their business objectives and take full advantage of the technology in which they have invested large amounts of money.

Network Performance
Virtual applications are extremely interactive, requiring screen updates and mouse movements to be sent over the WAN using thin-client protocols. While these work fine in a Local Area Network (LAN), there are unique challenges when communicating across a WAN that can have an adverse effect on the performance of these protocols, resulting in slow screen refresh rates and occasional session disconnects. Latency is common when communication takes place over long geographical distances, bandwidth is often limited and costly to provide, and in many environments, like MPLS and cloud, packets are often lost or delivered out of order due to network congestion. When any or all of these issues arise, business continuity initiatives are costly and at risk of failure.

The same can be said for end-user applications. Voice, video, file, email and VDIs are all sensitive to bandwidth, distance and network quality, which often lead to poor application performance in remote locations. To accommodate growing data volumes and an ever-increasing need for real-time WAN performance, the average large company upgrades WAN bandwidth approximately every two years. Upgrading bandwidth, however, is both time-consuming and costly, and does not always address application delivery woes brought on by latency, packet loss and other common issues.

For instance, in MPLS, IP VPN and cloud environments, packet delivery issues can increase as throughput increases, which places even more demand on network resources. It's common to see networks with an average packet loss of 0.5 percent reach peaks of five percent, no matter how much bandwidth is available. These issues can lead to excessive re-transmissions, which limits the effective throughput of data transfers across the WAN.

Continuing under the illusion that throwing additional bandwidth at the problem only complicates matters. Instead, enterprises must grasp the importance of tackling the underlying network infrastructure challenges that hamper key business applications.

VDI Victory
Network stability and geographical distances also play a large role in the success of VDIs. As users move farther away from the data center, and as VDI deployments grow in size, it becomes more difficult to deliver a consistent application experience. For one, remote users are often connected via different types of WANs with varying levels of bandwidth, latency and quality. Second, data centers are required to support thousands of simultaneous desktop connections, which presents a unique scalability challenge. Moreover, different VDI applications use different communication protocols, creating an even greater need to stabilize the underlying network infrastructure to ensure maximum VDI performance in all deployment scenarios.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
‘Cloud computing' is a broad term that is used liberally to mean different things to different organizations. At the highest level, it involves the delivery of hosted services over a shared WAN, such as the Internet. Regardless of the type of service deployed, all cloud computing initiatives have one thing in common - data is centralized, while users are distributed. Understandably, this places increased pressure on the network, making cloud computing susceptible to the same WAN bandwidth, latency and quality challenges that impact other enterprise applications.

To accommodate the increasing volumes of data, organizations can deploy large WAN links between data centers, which are able to handle hundreds of megabytes or terabytes of data. However, given the price of WAN bandwidth, this can become an extremely expensive component, which rarely solves the true underlying performance problems.

Maximizing Performance, Minimizing Costs
A real-time solution that has the scalability to handle increasing volumes of data traffic - such as WAN optimization - is critical to cloud computing services. It is the only way to overcome bandwidth, latency and WAN quality issues that plague the cloud and business applications in general. Reducing the amount of data sent across the WAN, prioritizing key traffic and eliminating packet retransmissions with WAN optimization technology has a threefold result: network performance and end-user experience improve drastically, while ongoing telecommunications costs are significantly reduced.

With some business applications costing close to $10,000 per user to deploy, enterprises find themselves spending considerable portions of their IT budgets rolling them out. It's common for IT managers to spend a third of their total project investments on upgrades to IT infrastructure in order to support such new applications. Comparatively, a network investment often costs less than one percent of the total cost of deploying a single enterprise application. As a result, WAN optimization provides a rapid return on investment with the added benefit of increased end-user satisfaction.

WAN optimization not only addresses the latency, packet loss and bandwidth challenges that cause virtual applications and VDI to be unresponsive and/or unreliable across the WAN, but it also provides real-time optimization techniques that maximize WAN performance - a fundamental aspect of any successful cloud initiative.

By taking a network-centric approach, organizations achieve maximum scalability and the flexibility needed to support all current and emerging applications on the network, and in so doing clear the vulnerability gap that seriously compromises business continuity plans.

About David Hughes
Dr. David Hughes holds more than 25 patents for networking related inventions. In 2004, he founded Silver Peak Systems, a leader in the Wide Area Network (WAN) Optimization field that improves backup, replication and recovery between data centers, and facilitates branch office server and storage centralization by improving application performance across WANs. As Chief Technology Officer for Silver Peak Systems, he is responsible for the company's technical direction and product vision. He previously held senior architect positions with Cisco Systems, Stratacom, Blueleaf and Nortel. Dr. Hughes has a PhD in packet network optimization.

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