The technology continues its main function -- making response times faster over WAN links -- but now through software that runs on virtual machines it is becoming practical for use in public and private clouds where virtual environments rule. A few years ago, WAN optimization was locked within hardware appliances, but that is no longer the case.
Virtualized versions of the old hardware appliances make it possible to deploy optimization within public cloud provider networks, meaning cloud-based applications respond better. It also means data can be sent in less time to cloud storage facilities where it occupies less disk space (and so costs less) and is secure because it is encrypted.
The flexibility of application use that cloud environments can enable requires infrastructure that can optimize delivery of those applications. "The network infrastructure won't change as fast as the applications on them," which means WAN optimization itself needs to be as portable a possible, says Rob Shaughnessy, CTO at WAN optimization vendor Circadence.
This includes embedding WAN optimization in applications so optimization can be called upon as a service within the application. For example, the application running on a medical imaging device could include WAN optimization support, making a separate WAN optimization appliance unnecessary at that end of a connection, Shaughnessy says.
Riverbed, too, is catering to the cloud, with its virtual versions that can run on virtual machines within cloud environments, says Mark Day, the company's chief scientist. It is also prepping a public cloud portal that tracks where customer assets are placed within the Amazon EC2 cloud so traffic bound for those assets can be optimized via a virtual instance of Riverbed's Steelhead appliance in the cloud.
Riverbed is has also announced a cloud storage product called Whitewater that deduplicates and encrypts data before it is sent to a public cloud storage service. The deduplication and encryption reduce the bytes sent over the WAN, improving time to send the data, and also reducing the amount of storage space customers need to buy from cloud storage providers.
A Riverbed customer, the International Justice Mission, uses its gear for WAN optimization, cloud optimization and storage optimization, saving money that it says translates directly into saving lives of sex trade victims, whom the agency advocates for (see "How WAN optimization is saving lives"). But the agency would still like to see better video optimization, according to the agency's vice president for information systems, John Lax. He realizes that may be asking too much given the nature of video, and that he may have to relent and buy more bandwidth.
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