Why WAN acceleration is one of the hottest projects in IT

Learn what WAN acceleration can and can't do, how it works, the ROI case, and why it's such a hot project for many IT departments.

WAN acceleration made my list of the top IT trends to watch in 2010 because it can provide clear ROI and benefits that employees and company leaders will notice immediately. So let's take a look at what WAN acceleration can and can't do, how it works, and the ways it can benefit your organization.

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Why WAN acceleration is a hot project in IT

What is WAN acceleration?

Well, the first thing to realize is that what we're going to call WAN acceleration in this episode is referred to by several different terms in the industry. You'll hear different vendors call it things like WAN optimization, Application Acceleration, and Bandwidth Acceleration. Cisco even refers to it as Wide Area Application Services, or WAAS.

My favorite term for it is WAN caching. Of course, no one in the industry actually calls it that, but that's the crux of what's going on here.

WAN acceleration can drastically improve the speed of file transfers and the performance of many applications for your branch offices and remote workers. And since at least half, and by some estimates up to two-thirds, of all workers are located OUTSIDE the company's central office, this can be a big win.

How does it work?

WAN acceleration involves placing an appliance between your WAN router and your servers at the headquarters or primary data center and then another appliance in the same spot at each of the branch offices. The remote appliances then cache the large files that get sent repeatedly over the WAN and only replicate the small changes to the files. The appliances also do some compression and make some tweaks to optimize the networking protocols.

The result is that most files and applications will perform about five to ten times faster, and in some cases even up to 100 times faster. That will make employees much happier and more productive. The other benefit is that WAN acceleration can decrease WAN usage by up to 60-90%. That's where you'll see the ROI, because in many cases it can reduce the amount of bandwidth you'll need to purchase at some branch offices.

What's the catch?

The best part of WAN acceleration is that you can install these appliances without disrupting your current network and you'll immediately start seeing the benefits after the appliance caches the first file transfer. However, WAN acceleration will NOT speed up connection-sensitive applications such as video conferencing, Voice over IP, or real-time collaboration.

You may also wonder how WAN acceleration will affect road warriors and telecommuters who aren't located in a branch office. The good news is that many of the WAN acceleration vendors also offer software solutions that can be installed on laptops and PCs and provide most of the same benefits.

Speaking of vendors, the companies to watch in this space are WAN acceleration specialists Riverbed and Blue Coat and networking giants Cisco and Juniper.

All in all, WAN acceleration can have a big impact on file transfers, Microsoft Exchange, corporate databases, and many business-specific applications that rely on static files.