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WAN optimisation in the age of the Cloud - Interview

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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Cloud apps make heavy weather of network administration for many enterprise IT teams, says Tony Thompson, vice president of marketing at WAN optimisation company Silver Peak. Conditions out there on the Internet can be difficult to forecast, he says, and when things turn nasty, the consequences can be dire for application performance.

The trouble is that many companies now use a wide range of software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, but IT teams can make no guarantees about the route that the traffic they generate will take once it leaves their own wide area network (WAN).“There’s an overwhelming lack of visibility and control, no way of troubleshooting problems and certainly no way to optimise traffic for better application performance,” he says.

To compound the problem, most IT heads would struggle to identify all of the cloud-based apps that their business users rely on, in any case.

“The CIO or IT manager, in our experience, rarely has any idea how many cloud apps are running in their environment, let alone which ones,” he says. It’s not their fault, he adds: it’s a product of so-called ‘shadow IT’, where individual business units procure SaaS without informing the IT department.

But even if the CIO is happy to encourage business units’ self-reliance and keen to support the apps they choose, they can’t, because of this lack of visibility into performance. “And sooner or later, it becomes the CIO’s problem anyway, when users start complaining to IT about poor SaaS performance.”

Strength in Unity

This the problem that Silver Peak’s intelligent wide area network (WAN) fabric product, Unity, sets out to solve. Unity was launched this summer and showcased at IP EXPO Europe in October. By mid-2015, Thompson hopes, around half of Silver Peak’s existing customer base will have implemented Unity or be planning to do so.
Unity correlates information on cloud services and Internet conditions and uses that data to route network traffic more intelligently, helping it to avoid any trouble spots where congestion is occurring and which can leave corporate end-users struggling to take advantage of SaaS and, to a somewhat lesser extent, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) resources. It works by collecting data from Silver Peak software based in customers’ data centres, branch offices and third-party cloud interconnection hubs and sharing it with Silver Peak’s new Cloud Intelligence service, which then figures out the best detours for traffic to take in order to reach its destination in the best time possible.
This approach can give CIOs and IT teams a whole new level of control over previously wayward SaaS offerings and probably encourage further uptake, Thompson claims.“The use of SaaS is only increasing as companies are increasingly willing to shift business-critical workloads to the cloud,” he says. “But their network capabilities need to catch up with that trend and, at the same time, support future growth.”
“Unity combines traditional enterprise WAN with the Internet and cloud services in one, seamless fabric. That gives corporate IT the ability to monitor, control and optimise all connectivity across the enterprise.”
But in addition to ‘reining in’ cloud-based apps, “as if they were on-premise, connected directly to the private network”, he says, “it’s also about providing users with consistent performance, so that they aren’t frustrated and unable to work.”
That could be particularly attractive to European SaaS customers who, in many cases, are forced to access customer relationship management (CRM) or human capital management (HCM) applications from largely US-based data centres - or, at least, from data centres based outside of their own country.
But across the board, it’s a savvy response to an overwhelming market trend: companies are gradually shifting away from traditional MPLS WAN infrastructures. The Internet, whether they like it or not, is increasingly becoming their corporate backbone.