Using WAN Optimization to Improve Application Performance

Webtorials recently published its annual State-of-the-WAN report for 2016. The report is based upon a survey of 110 network professionals conducted in May 2016, and discusses the factors that are having the greatest impact on their organizations’ wide-area networks (WANs). The top five are:

  • Security (cited by 42 percent of respondents)
  • Cost (37 percent)
  • Support for real-time applications such as voice and video (33 percent)
  • Access to cloud computing services (32 percent)
  • Business-critical application traffic (25 percent)

The report notes that WAN latency, jitter and packet loss hamper application performance, and is particularly problematic with real-time applications. In addition, WAN outages can have a serious impact on business operations as more and more applications and services are accessed via the WAN.

These problems have been amplified by growing volumes of WAN traffic. Many organizations have consolidated their applications and data into centralized data centers, which branch locations access via the WAN. In addition, organizations frequently “backhaul” Internet traffic from branch locations across the WAN to the data center. Mobility and the cloud have increased this Internet traffic and added to the strain on the WAN.

Simply adding bandwidth is not enough to relieve these bottlenecks. The law of diminishing returns applies — although initial bandwidth increases can bring performance gains, the gains become almost negligible as more and more bandwidth is added. Furthermore, application performance depends upon a wide range of factors that have little to do with download speeds.

As a result, many organizations are looking for ways to optimize WAN traffic. One approach is to add a WAN optimization tool, which uses various techniques to manage bandwidth usage and make data transmission more efficient. Some of these techniques include:

  • Traffic shaping. Traffic shaping regulates data transfers based upon Quality of Service and other requirements. Data packets are prioritized and classified and bandwidth is allocated accordingly. This helps ensure the high performance of mission-critical applications.
  • Data reduction. Data de-duplication detects and prevents the transmission of redundant information, which can reduce bandwidth requirements by 90 percent or more for certain processes. Various forms of compression are also used to reduce the size of files to conserve bandwidth.
  • Frequently accessed content is hosted locally so it doesn’t have to be transferred across the WAN each time a client requests it.
  • Protocol optimization. Rather than simply relaying a client’s request to the network, protocol optimization tools reformat the request to minimize latency. Data is transmitted faster because less back-and-forth communication across the WAN is required.

A WAN optimization solution can be deployed without the need to adjust management tools, applications or your existing IT infrastructure. Once deployed, it will constantly monitor data traffic and applications, and use algorithms to choose specific optimization techniques in real time according to your network conditions.

WAN optimization is not a panacea, however. Many organizations are struggling with the basic architecture of their WANs — in fact, 23 percent of those surveyed by Webtorials said they were either dissatisfied or only somewhat satisfied with their existing WAN architecture. Software-defined WAN technology is an emerging alternative that we’ll discuss in our next post.