WAAS Up with Cisco’s WAN Optimization Initiative?

For more information on this topic, you can download our Tech Brief on Cisco WAAS, available here

stevefulton.jpgby Steve Fulton
Users expect a ubiquitous and instantaneous network, as well as consistent application performance. This, combined with a proliferation of business critical, Web 2.0, (and recreational) applications that consume precious WAN bandwidth, forces IT to get very creative in squeezing more performance out of existing infrastructure.
Hence the red-hot market for application acceleration and WAN optimization products that address WAN performance problems caused by latency, congestion, and applications (such as WAFS and CIFS) that were designed for the LAN and now have to traverse the WAN due to data center consolidation.
Cisco shook things up in late 2006 with the introduction of WAAS-short for Wide Area Application Services-technology that is transparent to the underlying network infrastructure. According to Cisco, WAAS combines WAN optimization, acceleration of TCP-based applications, and Cisco’s Wide Area File Services (WAFS) in a single appliance or blade.
WAAS addresses problems related to traffic congestion that need some sort of optimization done at the branch. It complements Cisco’s Application Control Engine (ACE), which is a data center optimization product that integrates server load balancing, application security, and unique virtual partitioning capabilities.

Cisco WAAS is, in fact, an array of features designed to overcome a specific type of barrier to application delivery including:

  • Standards-based data compression to minimize the amount of bandwidth consumed on a link.
  • Suppression of redundant data during transmission.
  • WAN-optimized transport protocol to overcome the performance and efficiency limitations of TCP.
  • A transparent proxy that enables unnecessary messages to be handled locally, batched for parallel operation, predicted, or forwarded to the originating server to mitigate application latency.
  • Application caching to safely and locally serve validated content that has been previously accessed when requested by an authorized user

According to Cisco, WAAS scales to thousands of branch offices and up to four million TCP connections – while being completely transparent to customers’ existing networks and enabling seamless integration with pre-established network security and WAN traffic policies.
While some analysts have criticized Cisco’s late entry into the lucrative WAN optimization market, many industry watchers praise the company for delivering an all-in-one approach that leverages existing enterprise infrastructure. Currently, Cisco dominates the market for network infrastructure devices and most large enterprises have a significant investment in Cisco gear. Large enterprises are trying to find ways of rationalizing how much infrastructure they should deploy, while simplifying and consolidating infrastructure to cut costs.
If Cisco is successful, WAN optimization will reside firmly in the router, eliminating the need to deploy acceleration appliances throughout the infrastructure. It will enable customers to leverage their existing routers for more efficient WAN utilization-while actually improving application performance with the acceleration, TFO, DRE, and compression algorithms used.
Does it make sense for your organization to follow Cisco’s lead? Only time will tell, but it is still vital that network professionals validate that they are indeed getting the improvements they expect from WAN optimization products. It is also important to understand that deploying utilization improvements and protocol distribution is not sufficient.
Validating WAN optimization improvements requires a performance first approach that includes response time measurements that clearly identify improvements to application, network, and server latency. That data can then be correlated with protocol distribution from sources such as Cisco IOS® NetFlow, and utilization information from SNMP.
Steve Fulton is Senior Director of Strategic Alliances at NetQoS. We begged him not to use that pun in the title, but he could not be dissuaded.
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More Information:
Press Release
- NetQoS Integrates with Cisco WAAS to Deliver End-to-End Application Response Time Reporting for WAN Optimization
- Evaluating WAN Optimization Options and Quantifying the Results
NetQoS WAAS Solutions
- Measure the Impact of Cisco WAAS on Network and Application Performance with NetQoS

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