Solving WAN Issues Takes More Than Adding Bandwidth

By Jean-Paul Bergeaux
Chief Technology Officer, SwishData

Government agencies are faced with more WAN problems today than ever before as a result of data center consolidation, mobile and telework computing, and public cloud computing all converging on IT at once. At the risk of making enemies with bandwidth providers, I have to speak out. Stop the madness! I am surprised at how many times IT and network admins run to these providers to solve WAN problems. It’s not going to work. The problem is larger than bandwidth.

When chatty apps attack

Often, after adding bandwidth, organizations find they are not using all of the available expensive new bandwidth, nor has the application experience improved. So what gives? Resolving WAN network issues is significantly impacted by how well the solution integrates with your applications. There are many facets to this point, but I am specifically thinking of solving issues applications have with distance. Anyone who looks beyond bandwidth providers to solve network performance problems will look to WAN acceleration products. However, even a basic network acceleration product that does not integrate with applications will probably not solve your problems.

Applications are designed for a local LAN and tend to be ‘chatty,’ which means they have short, frequent conversations with end-user computers. When those computers are moved far apart, latency becomes an issue in those conversations. If you’ve ever watched a low-quality satellite interview with a reporter, you might have noticed the wait time between one party finishing a sentence and the other responding. It’s pretty annoying to watch an extended interview like this. Now imagine if the questions and answers were short, such as one sentence. That might take a while. That’s what’s happening to applications over the WAN.

How to fix it (not by spending a fortune on bandwidth)

The real answer is an application-aware, smart network optimization solution, such as the Riverbed Steelhead appliance. These types of products actually understand layer-seven information and optimize how the application communicates with the user. Steelhead is unique in that it is able to break open the applications packets even if they are encrypted, such as secure Exchange 2010. There are also solutions that target the application itself so that roundtrips never get initiated, such as Riverbed’s Aptimizer in its Stingray line of products.

Both are incredible products that have near-immediate return-on-investment potential while solving user complaint issues. The kicker? They reduce bandwidth usage typically by 60 to 95 percent, allowing some organizations to even reduce their network contracts when they were looking to increase them. Anyone who puts together a mobility or data center consolidation solution must look at these products. Spending a fortune on network bandwidth isn’t going to solve the problem.

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