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Bob Gilbert

5 things to look for when choosing a WAN optimization vendor

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I recently blogged about the ABCD's of WAN optimization in an attempt to simplify the understanding of how this technology adds value to IT organizations.  After hopefully gaining a better understanding of WAN optimization, the obvious next step is to choose which WAN optimization vendor's product to deploy.  As Riverbed's evangelist, I am obviously biased, but I thought I would plot out what I see as the 5 key things to look for when selecting a WAN optimization vendor.


1.  Customer and industry recognition

Customer references remain king regardless of the product, technology, or service.  We see this with social media platforms like Yelp where the community shares their experience with a variety of businesses.  If a large percentage of the community rates the business highly, then there is a better chance that your experience will be positive as well.  The same holds true for WAN optimization.  Ask your vendor candidates to provide several customers that you can call to ask how their experience has been.  Even better, ask for references that represent an environment similar to your own.  Be wary of vendors that only have a small amount of references or simply provide you with case studies in lieu of someone that can accept a phone call.

In addition to customers, talk to industry experts to get their take.  For example, Gartner is one of the premiere analysts that covers the WAN optimization market.  They publish a Magic Quadrant spotlighting leaders and visionaries in this market.  These industry experts have done their homework and while their opinion is at the end of the day, just an opinion, it is an expert opinion.

2.  Proven ROI

Value and return on investment is cornerstone to any technology deployed in today's economic landscape.  Ask each vendor to go through an ROI exercise based on your environment in order to determine what the potential savings would be.  While the product cost varies from vendor to vendor, so does the ROI once you figure in the deployment costs, optimization results, and cost of the product as well.  It is also a good idea to ask for both customer and 3rd party ROI validation.  Beware of products that are considerably less as the old adage "you get what you paid for" often applies.

3.  Speed, Scalability, Simplicity

At the end of the day, it's usually about speed\acceleration\optimization.  How much acceleration do you get with each WAN optimization vendor?  Many vendors will tout acceleration for varying applications, but vendors differ in their implementation.  Look for vendors that have developed acceleration techniques geared towards mitigating the latency impact on the performance for your specific application. 

WAN optimization encompasses IT infrastructure technology that is often deployed as an appliances (hardware/virtual) at a branch office and data center and software that is deployed in mobile worker's laptops.  Scalability of this IT infrastructure as far as being able to address the demands of your user, network, and application loads is critical for very large deployments where there are large amounts of users and branch offices.  Being able to scale down can be very critical as well.  If you have small offices with only a handful of users, does the WAN optimization vendor offer a product specifically designed for your environment?

One of the often overlooked comparison points of WAN optimization is simplicity.  How simple is the product to deploy?  How much IT staff is required for the initial deployment and ongoing maintenance?  test each vendor by timing how long it takes from un-boxing to optimization.

4.  Product Features and Breadth of Capabilities

You may be surprised that product features is this far down on the list.  The truth is that once you test for speed, scalability, and simplicity, the product features usually take second stage.  For example, if your application is SSL-encrypted, vendors that have developed SSL acceleration features should rise to the top during your testing.  Vendor acceleration features in the areas of web-based apps to Lotus Notes optimization to thin client acceleration vary greatly as do their ability to accelerate these applications. Beware of vendors that claim acceleration of an application only to find out they they don't solve the latency impact on performance.  Once again, make sure your applications are part of your WAN optimization test plans.

There are features very applicable to WAN optimization that are not necessarily about optimization or acceleration specifically.  For example, the ability to provide end-to-end visibility into the network and applications is important for both identifying additional opportunities for optimization along with monitoring the effectiveness of the WAN optimization devices themselves.  Some vendors offer a robust visibility solution while others are well behind in this important aspect of WAN optimization.

Another feature to look for is the ability to run branch office services such as domain controller, print, DNS/DHCP directly from a WAN optimization device.  A number of vendors provide a virtualization layer where you can run these services on their box, providing the ability to consolidate a number of servers and appliances at the branch.  Think branch office box functionality.

5.  Company Viability and ability to Support

Last, but certainly not least is the viability of the vendor and their ability to adequately support their product.  A WAN optimization solution can be a big investment with great value and a tremendous ROI, but your investment could be a bad one if you choose a vendor on the way down, instead of up.  Is the vendor's business growing or shrinking?  Do they have ample resources to focus on your success after the sale?  If you are a global company, do they provide global support?

If you would like to hear from me specifically about Riverbed's response to each of the above five points, please respond and let me know.  I would also love to hear your feedback and if there is maybe something I missed.

Bob Gilbert
bob@riverbed.com

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Riverbed. WAN optimization for your network: Application acceleration, WAN bandwidth optimization, and IT consolidation. Riverbed is the IT performance company. WAN optimization solutions from Riverbed liberate businesses from common IT constraints by increasing application performance, enabling consolidation, and providing enterprise-wide network and application visibility – all while eliminating the need to increase bandwidth, storage or servers. Thousands of companies trust Riverbed to deliver greater productivity and cost savings by making their IT infrastructure faster, less expensive and more responsive. Riverbed solutions are also available as managed services through select providers.

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