The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

It’s (still) not just about bandwidth

Posted by riverbedtest on April 6, 2010

It’s interesting to see how much has changed in the WAN (Wide Area Network) optimisation space over the last half a decade or more, yet some things haven’t changed much. Five years ago I recall a white paper had been written on the subject titled, “It’s not just about bandwidth”. At the time bandwidth reduction was a great story and the management reports within Steelhead were great at sharing how much bandwidth had been saved, but although some organisations were able to justify the business case on bandwidth alone many struggled. Saving bandwidth which gives rise to potential cost savings or as in most cases, defers bandwidth upgrades, is only part of the story and for most, a small part of the story. The real deal only happens as we speed up data across the WAN through either optimising the transport layer or better still accelerating the applications.

Now for some readers, this may not be anything new, it’s the bread and butter or simply put the basics of good solid WAN optimisation. But each week I am faced with questions from prospects & some journalists; with the advent of fibre everywhere, surely WAN optimisation struggles to add value right? Wrong!

Admittedly, if we run dark fibre from point A to point B over a relatively short distance and we connect our IT equipment at each end, with no service provider equipment in between then yes, WAN optimisation does not necessarily have a part. Bandwidth may be in plentiful supply but, more importantly, the biggest barrier to success across the WAN is latency and with dark fibre over a relative short distance the latency will be extremely low.

Today a number of service providers are upgrading their network to fibre only, offering much higher bandwidth options, in some cases up to 100Mbps and doing so cost effectively. This is great news for consumers and businesses, there’s no question about that but even with the almighty increase in bandwidth the latencies don’t go away over night. So if the issue is the speed of light, will increasing the bandwidth make the speed of light go faster? In short, no, as it still faces the same problems it did before. We can carry more traffic, hold more video conversations make more voice over IP calls and transfer larger files, but nothing goes any faster until we resolve the latency issue.

I recall a quote from Steve McCann, CTO of Riverbed Technology that was something like “The only way to overcome the speed of light is to not make the trip in the first place”. And it stands true today, more bandwidth is good, but once any bottlenecks have been overcome through either more bandwidth or a more efficient use of bandwidth the only way to make things go faster across your WAN is to optimise traffic leveraging technology such as the Riverbed optimisation system (RIOS).

So the idea that new fibre networks from service providers will provide more bandwidth is great, and I am sure technology development will improve for many, many years to come and continuingly increase in the phenomenon of more available bandwidth. But there is as much today as there was at the beginning of Riverbed and will be for many, many years to come a place for WAN optimisation technology as part of any IT infrastructure build to accelerate the data transferred across the WAN.

What do you think?



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