Virtualized WAN Optimization

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1 Virtualized WAN Optimization The Road to Cloud Computing Written by: Michael Keen, DABCC.com October,

2 DABCC Opinion Strong market potential and growth in the application delivery and WAN optimization market are a result of multiple industry trends demanding new solutions to application delivery problems for distributed organizations and mobile users. First, a large percentage of enterprise employees (estimated at more than 70 percent) work from remote locations, and the pressure is on IT managers to ensure high performance and reliable application delivery to these users. Second, IT managers need to reduce costs and increase security by moving application, desktop, and server infrastructure out of branch offices and into centralized data centers and/or on- or off-premise cloud infrastructures. These trends place more and more stress on the WAN and can reduce application performance. These demands have given rise to WAN optimization products that enable IT managers to meet both needs: consolidate infrastructure to reduce costs and provide excellent application performance to distributed users. The complexity of the modern enterprise its business and IT components and its linkages with other enterprises increases the difficulty of implementing changes. Different elements change at different rates, but the pressure to change is always there. In this environment, how can companies make their businesses more agile and capitalize on change? Many enterprises are thinking of moving to cloud services to achieve the level of agility they need to respond to the changing business environment. Virtualization is a common first step; however, virtualization of WAN optimization also will be required since an efficient and cost-effective network is key to delivering on the dynamic needs of the enterprise. Today s Remote User Challenges Companies have more distributed workforces than ever before. For example, there are more than 6 million branch offices and 30 million branch office workers in the U.S. On a worldwide basis, there are more than 23 million branch offices and 50 million branch office workers. Virtually all companies regard their branch offices as key touch points with their customers and, hence, view these offices as critical to the success of their businesses. Remote workers need access to the same applications (e.g., customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and office productivity tools) as do workers in a headquarters facility. However, in most cases one or more of the applications that remote office workers need to access are hosted in a central facility, such as a data center or an on- or off-premise cloud infrastructure. Because of the inherent network latency, or delay, that occurs when communicating over a WAN between a company s remote offices and the central facility (headquarters, on- or off-premise cloud) that houses the applications, branch office workers experience significantly more delay in accessing an application than do employees who work in the headquarters. It is quite common that an application that performs well when accessed locally performs badly when accessed remotely. Two of the reasons for latency commonly experienced over the WAN are the use of a chatty protocol such as Common Internet File System (CIFS) and the congestion that typically occurs on the WAN. 2

3 Adding WAN bandwidth can resolve some of the performance issues that employees in remote offices face when trying to access an application. However, adding WAN bandwidth is unlikely to resolve all the issues that are caused by network congestion or chatty protocols over the WAN. Most performance issues are a result of two factors the speed of light and the number of information flows required to complete a single transaction, neither of which is addressed by adding WAN bandwidth. Gartner presents the problem as follows: Most networks carry a variety of types of traffic, of differing characteristics and importance. Many organizations are striving to manage this traffic to optimize the response times of critical applications and reduce costs, given that bandwidth continues to represent a significant proportion of operating expenditure for wide-area data networks. But the cost of bandwidth isn t the only consideration minimizing the effect of latency on application response times and matching the allocation of WAN resources to business needs also are important. In addition, new application environments, like browser-based applications and Web services, can put an unexpected strain on the network. The Traditional Approach A traditional approach to managing application performance is to set thresholds for WAN utilization. Many IT organizations, for example, use a rule of thumb that says they will add WAN bandwidth once network utilization exceeds a threshold often in the range of 70 to 80 percent. IT organizations that use this approach to managing network and application performance implicitly make two assumptions: If the network is heavily utilized, the applications will perform poorly. If the network is lightly utilized, the applications will perform well. The first assumption is often false. For example, if the network is supporting or bulk file transfer applications, heavy network utilization is unlikely to result in the unacceptable performance of these applications. The second assumption also is often false, as it is quite possible to have situations in which the network is operating at relatively low utilization levels and yet the applications that transit the network are performing poorly. While it is not clear if adding bandwidth will improve the performance of branch office applications, it is quite clear that adding bandwidth will increase cost. As previously mentioned, adding WAN bandwidth adds cost without necessarily addressing the root cause of poor application performance over the WAN. An alternative to merely adding WAN bandwidth is to use a WAN optimization solution. A WAN optimization solution typically requires a hardware appliance in both the data center and the branch office. 3

4 To address the remote user challenges properly, there are some architectural questions that need to be answered. Do you take the IT consolidation approach and pull all IT back into the corporate data center, taking advantage of further server consolidation and greater total cost of ownership (TCO)? If so, then what do you do about the growing WAN response-time issues? Do you leave servers in your branches in order to maintain application and virtual desktop performance regardless of WAN quality? If so, then how do you deal with the more complex cost and control issues? We are seeing a shift as companies are increasing their use of virtualization technologies in their branches and remote offices. As attractive as it is for companies to move all this to the main data center or cloud infrastructures, it also creates more challenges with such protocols as CIFS, Network File System, and Messaging Application Programming Interface Remote Procedure Call, which are inherently chatty in nature. But deploying applications to the branch office increases administrative and operational costs, which is in direct conflict with corporate objectives of reducing all unnecessary costs. As stated in the opinion section, virtualization is the common answer to significantly reducing IT OpEx and CapEx in the enterprise. Virtualization is the technology that organizations will use to also reduce costs, improve branch office performance, and increase agility. Virtualization and WAN Acceleration Today Virtualization technology may be decades old, but it is filled with new promise in helping IT executives improve data center and remote office responsiveness. Virtualization has become a required component in most organizations. You can t go into an enterprise today and not find some sort of virtualization technology in place. Server virtualization has proven effective as a way of reducing not only equipment levels at the low end, but also attendant support, energy, and floor space costs. This tactical use of virtualization often is referred to as virtualization 1.0. The real promise of virtualization extends far beyond consolidation. When delivered as a common platform for servers, storage, desktops, and other hardware-based appliances currently in an organization s infrastructure, virtualization fundamentally transforms IT s ability to build a more flexible and responsive infrastructure. This trend is already well under way. According to Forrester Research, by the end of 2009 more than 50 percent of all enterprises will have at least two years of experience invested with server virtualization. This two-year milestone is crucial because it represents the tipping point at which firms will have garnered a working knowledge of virtualization and are ready to move to a more strategic application of the technology. 4

5 One of these movements to a more strategic use of virtualization is the usage of virtual appliances in the enterprise. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of these purpose-built virtual machines (VMs) to reduce TCO and increase agility. A virtual appliance is any system that has normally run as a hardware appliance such as firewall, virtual private network, and WAN accelerators bundled into a quick-install software package that runs on top of a VM operating system or hypervisor. The main advantages are ease of deployment and low management requirements. A powerful benefit of virtual appliances is that they have all the benefits and advantages of hardware appliances without the downsides or additional hardware costs and management. You can easily migrate virtual appliances to a more powerful platform and processor when business conditions dictate and leverage the scalable nature of a virtual infrastructure. You can use the software appliance in a virtualized environment that is best suited for it for a small or midsize company, it means you can maintain your existing infrastructure without upgrading systems and server OS. One scenario that we see rising is the use of these virtual appliances in the WAN acceleration and application delivery space. WAN acceleration technology also is fast becoming a required component of high-performing organizations for many reasons, including increased business benefits, meeting IT service-level agreements (SLAs), meeting business SLAs, and, more important, productivity of the workforce. By using a virtual appliance to accelerate applications and optimize WAN connections to the remote offices you are taking advantage of the core benefits of virtualization: Higher Utilization: Since virtual appliances are encapsulated VMs, they can run side by side and share resources with other VMs in your environment, thereby increasing utilization of your host servers. Dynamic Resourcing: As demand increases within VMs due to increased user load or other requirements, some dynamic resourcing can be applied to these virtual appliances to adjust them to meet changing business needs. High Availability: Due to the very nature of virtualizing WAN acceleration appliances, you can take advantage of significantly increased availability by working around failures. Since the appliance is virtual it can run on existing systems, thereby reducing the need to buy additional hardware to support your disaster recovery and business continuity strategies. These benefits also align with our observations as they pertain to the virtual appliance s ability to be managed by the existing virtualization management infrastructure and provisioned and scaled to the available system resources of the VM environment in companies today. 5

6 Competitive Landscape The overall market for WAN acceleration is projected to hit $1.2 billion by 2010 according to Infonetics, which also states that a few factors are driving the space s staggering growth. Those factors include geographically dispersed workforces, data center consolidation, and greater numbers of users accessing more applications across the WAN. There are many players in the WAN optimization market space: Cisco, Certeon, Riverbed, Expand, and Blue Coat Systems, to name a few, but Certeon seems to be the only vendor to fully embrace virtualization of these WAN optimization appliances in its products. In this section we will talk about who the players are and what they have for an offering in this space as it pertains to virtual WAN optimization appliances and how those offerings compare to Certeon s acelera virtual WAN appliance. Certeon The acelera product is the industry s first virtual appliance for application acceleration for enterprises with distributed offices that runs natively within a VM operating system and provides true application acceleration across the WAN. The acelera software runs on industry-standard servers and delivers the same reduction in application response time as its proprietary hardware counterparts do, with the added benefit of eliminating the hardware footprint and high cost of separately managed, singlepurpose boxes. Provisioning acelera as a virtual appliance inside a virtual operating system allows other virtualized applications to benefit from acelera s performance enhancements. An independent test from The Tolly Group demonstrates acelera leveraging virtualization scalability benefits, enabling 50 percent more concurrent accelerated connections than are possible with similarly configured hardware appliances. acelera also enables IT managers to allocate application performance and system resources on demand and where they are needed most. acelera can be provisioned from a VM management system such as Microsoft s System Center Virtual Machine Manager or VMware vcenter the same central systems that monitor and control all virtual operating systems and virtualized applications. This solution solves the performance problems created by delivering centralized applications and file access to remote users over the WAN. When compared to proprietary hardware appliances, acelera software can save IT managers 60 percent in IT capital, operational and additional network bandwidth costs. With Certeon s solution, today s organizations can maximize their ROI from server consolidation and virtual infrastructure. 6

7 Riverbed Although Riverbed finds itself high in the Leaders quadrant of Gartner s Magic Quadrant, the virtualization component of the Steelhead hardware appliance leaves a lot to be desired. This virtualization component is not a complete hypervisor, thereby limiting the appliance s ability to leverage the full benefits of virtualization and not adding value to a true enterprise-wide virtualization strategy. This has serious limitations in terms of achieving anywhere close to the native performance and scalability of a true virtual appliance. RSP is Riverbed s virtualized service delivery solution based on VMware s run-time ESX server. RSP supports a limited number of virtual appliances, primarily print services, and Domain Name System (DNS)/Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)/IP AM. This also introduces some cost challenges, as the Steelhead appliance, being hardware based, requires a forklift upgrade to scale. Hardware replacement upgrades represent a process that does not contribute to business agility or real cost reduction. Expand Networks Expand Networks offers a true virtual appliance, thereby providing the flexibility and other virtualization benefits described above. The virtual appliance supports centralized management and monitoring, and all VMware tool sets, and integrates with VMware s management and provisioning products. What we have found in our analysis is that there are some serious limitations to the product in terms of scaling, disk size, cache size, and memory limits. The product also is limited to only 32-bit systems, which significantly limits the scalability needed in today s enterprise environments. Upon further research we have discovered that the virtual appliance is basically a physical-to-virtual conversion from Expand s hardware platform, and that there are limitations as to the production deployment of these appliances. Due to the challenges around scaling, it is recommended by Expand that the virtual appliance be run for only small branch offices and that the hardware appliance be implemented in larger branches and the main data centers. This significantly reduces the cost savings in the overall enterprise and the leveraging of the overall virtualization strategy for customers. A significant differentiator that we found between Expand and Certeon is that Certeon s acelera appliance is a certified virtual appliance on VMware. Cisco Although Cisco holds a significant advantage in market penetration and mindshare among organizations worldwide, the virtualization that Cisco promotes in the Wide Area Virtualization Engine appliance also is embedded, just as it is with Riverbed s Steelhead appliance. Cisco states, This solution allows IT organizations to centralize applications and storage in the data center while maintaining LAN-like application performance, and to rapidly deliver local branch office IT services while reducing the branch office device footprint. Although this does reduce the footprint of local branch office servers, it still does not provide the virtualization benefits that can be achieved with Certeon s acelera appliance. 7

8 Cisco s offering in this space does not conform to the virtualization strategies that today s organizations are striving for. The Cisco offering, like Riverbed s, is not fully virtualized and supports only a limited set of virtualized applications. The services that customers are limited to with Cisco are Microsoft Windows Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, and printing as part of the Windows Server 2008 core services. With only these types of services, we find that embedded virtualization capabilities are not satisfactory to deliver native performance and the wide range of application services that are typical from VMs. The Road to Cloud Services Ensuring that employees at remote locations are productive is a priority with every CIO, CTO, and CEO. Part of making that a reality is management s focus on creating a dynamic IT environment using virtualization technologies and optimizing the WAN between the central data centers and the remote offices. This dynamic IT often is referred to today as cloud computing. The diagram above indicates, under the heading Increase IT operational efficiency and performance, that the reduction of hardwired inflexibility through virtualization (No. 3) is a key way of reducing IT operating costs and improving agility, not only in headquarters but also in remote locations. Companies such as Certeon are innovating and taking the proven benefits of virtualization and combining it with the technology to optimize application performance in remote offices by virtualizing WAN optimization appliances that once only were hardware based. 8

9 By moving these appliances to VMs, companies gain a tremendous amount of flexibility to meet the demands of business today. This also sets up IT organizations to meet the future demands of business. It s no secret that technology is changing rapidly, and one place that is getting a lot of press is the cloud. It may seem like a made-up term, but it s real and the beauty and promise of cloud computing is ubiquitous access to a broad set of applications and services, which are delivered over the Internet and related networks, to multiple customers. We are seeing more and more companies moving toward this new paradigm as a way to increase agility and reduce costs. But to deliver on that promise, the cloud must provide a rich set of network services to a broad set of applications and services. Not all applications are the same: some will require only the basic capabilities available on the public Internet; while others may require an overlay on top, or even a private Internet Protocol network with application-specific capabilities. What may work for one subscriber of a cloudbased service may not be appropriate for another, so cloud computing providers need to understand network delivery issues and be prepared to deliver multiple cloud network options to their subscribers. We are seeing larger enterprises beginning to experiment with cloud-based services for parts of their own infrastructures and application hosting strategies; cloud providers also need reliable and secure ways to provide a seamless bridge between hosted cloud services and premise-based enterprise services. What we are waiting to see happen is vendors incorporating a set of open interfaces that allow customers to easily move VMs and application resources into a cloud-based data center and back again as needed. Certeon s acelera technology will play a critical role in this enterprise bridge by accelerating and optimizing application traffic between the cloud and the enterprise data center, even over long distances. 9

10 Summary Virtualization delivers compelling business value today, such as improving availability of servers, enabling application scalability, and reducing costs across the board. It is also the critical component to delivering on the promises of dynamic IT and cloud computing. But making cloud computing a reality requires an efficient and effective network. As companies move beyond standard server virtualization, they are looking for ways to increase agility and reduce costs simultaneously. But the forces in our dynamic world are creating more and more distance between users and applications across technical, physical, and organizational dimensions. No matter how fast computing evolves, it struggles to keep up with the even more dynamic pace of business change in the 21st century: Globalization, which is shifting work to where the talent lives Consolidation, which is rampant as industries and companies seek to squeeze out costs, putting more strain on remote users Cloud is the new wave in enterprise computing that will help address some of these challenges, but organizations need to be cognizant of the issues and challenges that come with ensuring proper application performance and overall availability of resources. Taking the power of virtualization to the next level by combining acceleration and virtualization, today s enterprise can achieve an infrastructure that meets the demands of the 21 st century. Certeon leads the market in the combination of virtualization and acceleration to provide the foundations of cloud computing and is strategically positioned to help enterprises use virtualization as a competitive weapon. 10

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