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Classic optimization takes back seat as WAN technologies evolve

The growth of cloud apps and the increased use of Internet over traditional WAN technologies has forced WAN optimization to evolve.

When I think about WAN optimization, there's one story that immediately comes to mind. It goes something like this:

A real estate brokerage based in New York had recently upgraded the wide area network (WAN) technologies it used, migrating from frame relay (I've already dated this, haven't I?) to MPLS to improve performance for users throughout its 19 branch offices.

But the company also, like many enterprises at the time, began consolidating data centers to save money. That decision had consequences, and the biggest casualties were the employees who now relied on a single, centralized SharePoint server to retrieve and share files. Any performance boost in the WAN upgrade was canceled out, at least for those users, by the new bottleneck in the data center. Even small files took several minutes to download.

I suppose I like this story because it's the quintessential networking fairy tale. Facing certain doom (a never-ending stream of help-desk tickets), our fair hero (the IT guy) saw two choices: reduce traffic or add bandwidth. Neither was realistic or cost-effective. But the night is always darkest before the dawn, which was when he stumbled across a fairly new technology gaining steam, WAN optimization. It turned out to be the best weapon to slay (well, mitigate) the mighty foe: latency.

Once the WAN optimization appliances were deployed, large files only took seconds to download. There was peace again in the kingdom.

And just like every other fairy tale, this story now sounds like something from a bygone era. Don't get me wrong: WAN optimization continues to enjoy widespread adoption, and its results rarely fail to impress. It's a mature technology that will live long and prosper (sorry, wrong genre) in many enterprise networks, and to their credit, vendors have made incremental improvements in terms of speed and performance. But until recently, real innovation was in short supply.

The problem with that was the WAN itself is changing. Users are more likely to be mobile than in a branch office. Applications are more likely to be accessed in the cloud over a standard Internet connection versus traditional WAN technologies. Not many network managers lose sleep over SharePoint traffic these days. What does it mean for the future of WAN optimization?

That's the question we seek to answer in our cover story ("Why the next breed of WAN optimization is SD-WAN") for this issue of Network Evolution. Contributing writer Sean M. Kerner digs into the next chapter of WAN optimization, a concept known as software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), which aims to bring the benefits of software-defined networking to the edge.

Also in this issue, uncover what's behind the trend of unified communications (UC) clients becoming increasingly browser-centric ("Simplicity of Web-based collaboration tools gains appeal"), and find out what role the network can play in securing the Internet of Things ("Enterprise IoT security: Is the sky truly falling?").

As always, don't miss this edition of "The Subnet" ("Amid constant threat of a network breach, visibility is key"), in which a network manager in the financial services industry talks about what it feels like to have a target on your back for cybercriminals. Also, be sure to read about the latest winner of SearchNetworking's Network Innovation Award, Arista's EOS+ operating system.

Next Steps

Amid focus on SD-WAN, WAN optimization is still key

Is the old way of building branch networks dead?

Survey: Lots of interest in SD-WAN but little uptake

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