Jeff Aaron from Silver Peak suggested in his comment to my last blog that individual WAN Optimization was of no real value. I’ve heard this view before. Sometimes from surprising quarters and people who you might think would know better.  For example, I had some analyst meetings last year. In one case, the UK WAN Optimization specialist was skeptical about the value of individual WAN acceleration. While his US colleague was very positive about it and thought the market was beginning to emerge. So disbelief is common and I think it comes from a network-based perspective. Rather than looking at what today’s users are actually doing.  Let’s talk it through…

Individual WAN Optimization

WAN optimization is conventionally based on four techniques working together:

1) TCP/IP optimization – this varies from vendor to vendor, but includes things like agressive window scaling,  re-ordering of lost packets.

2) Protocol optimization – many application protocols are chatty and inefficient because they assume LAN-like latency and bandwidth.  Spoofing, pre-fetching, bulking-up transfers, stripping or modifying protocol headers etc. can greatly improve the user’s experience. But typically have to implemented on a protocol-by-protocol basis.

3) Block de-duplication through caching.

4) Compression – just what it says. On average delivers a 50% reduction in data volume for many types of content.

The Real Benefits of Wan Optimization

Now techniques 1,2 and 4 are just as valuable to an individual user as they would be to a group of users whose activity is proxied through a shared device. So far so good. – Nothing here to suggest that an individual WAN Accelerator wouldn’t be a great thing.

The really powerful benefits of WAN optimization, however, come from (3) – de-duplication.  Those that dismiss individual WAN optimization tend do so on the basis that de-duplication only adds value for groups of users. Because each user benefits from the activity of other users. In other words, because someone else’s PC has downloaded a file, or browsed a web site,  you will get the benefit of doing the same things from your PC.  For sure there are some use cases where this is largely true: software updates, viewing of web pages perhaps, viewing the latest funny video on YouTube. – Each user does this only once, but with many users in a site, de-duplication drastically reduces the data transfer.

But we’ve moved on from the read-only Web 1.0 world into a much more collaborative and interactive Web 2.0 situation.

Consider these scenarios:

a) I’m part of a team collaborating on a number of documents. (or designs, drawings, schematics, videos, graphics etc). We’re sending versions of the content back and forth between us as we refine it.

b) I’m receiving content by email which I need to add to a remote records repository. Or to upload to SharePoint, or to email to many members of my team.

c) I’m a school pupil using a shared PC.  I’m visiting the same learning applications, browsing the same web sites,  completing the same on-line assessments, and viewing the same videos as all my class-mates.

d) I’m a social network guy who updates his face book page three times a day and visits many other friend’s pages several times a day. I also shop on Amazon, look at the TV listings,  hit the BBC news site and check my stock prices.

De-duplication at Device Level Important

The key element of the first two scenarios is that the same “stuff” goes back and forth between individuals with small changes. The key element of the last two scenarios is that the same computer is accessing the same, or slightly modified, content repeatedly. So in all of these common situations, de-duplication at the device level makes an enormous difference.  And we know this to be true because users tell us. In particular, remote users, who have to access corporate applications, web sites and document repositories on the road. Tell us that without Replify they couldn’t do their job.

Now Jeff points out that Windows 7 includes some improvements and he is of course correct.  The new office document formats are already compressed. The newer version of the file access protocol, CIFS, is much better than the previous version, and Branch Cache handles some shared access to office documents (but is rather limited). Interestingly these are in the areas that reduce the value of a shared WAN acceleration device just as much as an individual WAN Acceleration client. So I can agree with him about this, while still not feeling it in any way undermines a belief in the value of individual WAN optimization.

Why Individual Acceleration has been Under-Valued

There is another reason perhaps why individual acceleration has been under-valued. That is that the available products have been pale shadows of the site-level appliances, with reduced functionality (perhaps only providing compression, or only accelerating in one direction).  Not so with Replify Accelerator,  our PC client is exactly the same code that runs in our virtual appliance and it does all the things that a world-class WOC does.

This not a matter of opinion or dogma and the truth can be easily demonstrated.  We have a virtual appliance hosted on Amazon’s cloud platform, along with some sample file shares, and SharePoint content.   It takes only a few minutes to download and install our PC client, see the benefits of accessing the content on both cold and hot passes, and understand how much value this would add to your collaboration and case-based workflow.  If you want to try this, just email us and we’ll get you set up.

The story doesn’t end here though. Later this year Replify will be releasing an enhancement to Replify Accelerator called CLAN (Co-operative LAN).  With CLAN, individual clients will share their caches with others on the same LAN, and so you get the best of both worlds: personal acceleration when alone plus a virtual shared cache when working in the office.  So you can have an accelerated branch office without any server infrastructure. I think that’s pretty cool.

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