What’s missing in WAN optimization? Granular application-level visibility

Recent research shows IT managers looking to optimize application delivery over wide-area links need more visibility in app protocols and policy-level control over network traffic.

Network managers must not only ensure the local area is performing up to par supporting business applications, but they must also optimize the end-user experience over the wide area. But recent research suggests the current raft of technologies available don’t offer network managers the capabilities they need to keep their WAN optimization practices on pace with emerging technologies.

“IT organizations have more applications running over the WAN, which are challenging high-speed links and making it more difficult to monitor and manage application performance without visibility into network traffic,” says Bojan Simic, principal analyst at TRAC Research. “WAN optimization has become a feature of application acceleration technologies, but today the visibility component is more important as IT organizations report that managing interactive traffic over the WAN has become a significant challenge.”

Simic, who co-authored the report “WAN Acceleration Can’t Do it All” with TRAC Research Editor Tom Karol, says IT organizations expressed the need to gain application-level visibility in WAN optimization products. According to a survey of more than 350 IT organizations conducted between July and September 2010 by TRAC Research, the top challenges for managing application delivery over the WAN are as follows.

Increased amount of interactive traffic 58%
Increased number of applications and protocols to be supported 47%
Lack of application-level visibility into network traffic 45%
Inability to cost justify WAN optimization technology purchases 39%
Increased number of mobile users 39%

“It’s interesting that there is a stronger need for application-level visibility in WAN optimization products – these are capabilities that system management and network monitoring vendors often provide – but it is difficult to get that visibility into protocol levels,” Simic explains.

For instance, many tools would display HTTP traffic, but they might not all reveal that some of the HTTP traffic is for business-critical purposes, while other might be more recreational in use. The key is in gaining Layer 7 visibility in WAN traffic, TRAC Research suggests, because then organizations can apply more granular policies to network traffic and better ensure end users can access business-critical applications with ease.

“Organizations that are able to monitor and control network traffic at the application level are 91% more likely to report improvements in the time to troubleshoot performance issues as compared to organizations that do not have this capability,” the report reads.

Another challenge presents itself with interactive traffic such as VDI, video, unified communications and VoIP. That’s because many of these technologies use interactive protocols such as User Datagram Protocol (UDP), Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), according to TRAC Research. These protocols can be more difficult to manage due to smaller packet sizes. Some of these applications also require policies to be changed in real-time due to their fast-paced nature.

“Organizations that have the ability to monitor and control interactive and real-time traffic are 48% more likely to report improvements in the utilization of their network infrastructure as compared to organizations that do not have this capability,” the report reads.

TRAC Research points to several vendors promising to address IT organizations’ needs and mitigate the challenges posed by today’s applications traversing wide-area networks. While vendors offer different approaches, the research firm states that IT organizations need to update their approach to ensure applications can reach and perform optimally for end users on all points of a network.

“Organizations are increasingly realizing that in order to achieve their goals for managing the delivery of applications over the WAN they need a set of capabilities that go beyond moving data down the ‘pipe’ faster, reducing the amount of WAN traffic or WAN latency,” the report reads. “In order to be able to truly manage application performance over the WAN, organizations need to couple their acceleration capabilities with solutions that allow them to take full control over their WANs and to ensure that their enterprise infrastructure is being used in accordance with business goals.”

How do you manage application performance over the WAN? Is application acceleration enough or do you need more in your WAN optimization technology? Please leave a comment here or let me know your thoughts directly via e-mail at Denise.Dubie@ca.com.

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Denise Dubie

About Denise Dubie

Denise Dubie (@DDubie) is Principal of Strategic Content in CA Technologies Thought Leadership Group. She is charged with creating content relevant to today’s most pressing technology and business trends for industry leaders and IT professionals. Prior to joining the company in 2010, Dubie spent 12 years of her career at Network World, an IDG company, covering the IT management industry and all of its players (including CA Technologies and its competitors) as well as high-tech careers, technology trends and vendors such as Cisco, HP, IBM and Microsoft. As Senior Editor at Network World, Dubie also authored the publication's twice-weekly Network and Systems Management Alert newsletter and contributed to the Web site's Microsoft Subnet blog. Before IDG, she served as Assistant Managing Editor at Application Development Trends, managing writers and the monthly publication's production process. Dubie started her professional journalism career as a Staff Writer/Reporter at The Transcript, a small daily paper in Western Massachusetts.
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