Putting the Pedal to the Metal with Application Accelerators

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 2006-07-06 Print this article Print

Application acceleration technology keeps networks up to speed—and their managers sane.

Just about everywhere you go, you run into slightly flummoxed network managers who can't quite figure out why certain applications on their networks do not live up to their performance expectations.

A lot of the applications in this category tend to be recently deployed, latency-sensitive Web-based applications that are built on a service-oriented architecture, or telephony programs with traffic patterns that are best described as spiky.

Many a network manager has torn his hair out trying to figure out why throwing additional bandwidth at these and other mysterious applications isn't making any substantial performance difference. Others have simply given up, in the hope that some future upgrade of the application will miraculously solve the problem.

But a few more enterprising souls are starting to find success by deploying a new generation of devices that accelerate the performance of specific types of applications. For example, Andrew McKinney, director of technical services for Richardson Partners Financial, was having a difficult time supporting branch offices trying to access a centralized Microsoft SharePoint server that was attached to a centralized storage architecture.

The traditional way to solve this problem would have been to put file servers in all branch offices, but those servers would have been fairly expensive and, more important, would have required constant maintenance and support. Instead, McKinney opted for a relatively new class of network gear known as application acceleration devices, and in this instance, turned to Blue Coat Systems. One of the things he liked best about this approach is that it was a relatively simple, one-time cost to fix the problem by acquiring a new device, rather than dealing with all the ongoing costs associated with deploying new file servers and, perhaps, additional routers and switches.

Chris Finucane, chief technology officer for the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, had a similar challenge deploying Web-based applications. He, too, came to the conclusion that deploying application acceleration devices was the better part of valor when you factor in all the costs associated with managing distributed file servers. In this case, Finucane opted to use the Steelhead devices developed by Riverbed Technology, which this year was acknowledged with an Excellence Award from eWeek, a sister publication of Baseline.

You can tell that this whole category of devices is about to go mainstream because both Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks have gone on acquisition sprees in this area. Cisco, for instance, moved to acquire FineGround at roughly the same time Juniper acquired Peribit Networks. Cisco CEO John Chambers even went so far as to predict that application acceleration devices would be a $14 billion market, given the fact that there are an estimated 4 million branch offices worldwide that usually have poor access to one or more applications for any number of reasons.

These aren't the only vendors in this market; companies such as Packeteer and F5 Networks also have a play here. But it's pretty clear that this whole space is going mainstream because of two different but related factors. The first is that as applications continue to expand outside the four walls of the enterprise, a larger number of performance issues are going to crop up. But less obvious is the fact that these applications are expanding out at the same time that I.T. organizations are consolidating their server infrastructures. This means there are fewer file servers in remote offices to support distributed applications, so I.T. has to come up with another way to adequately deliver applications to those offices, which are not going away anytime soon.

For I.T. project leaders, application acceleration devices create a unique opportunity to bridge two trends that have frequently been at odds with each other, as systems managers move to reduce the number of systems they need to manage regardless of the desires of the people writing the next generation of Web-based applications. Anytime you can successfully bring those two camps together, it's a great day for I.T.

Michael Vizard is editorial director at ziff davis media's enterprise technology group. He can be reached at michael_vizard@ziffdavis.com.


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