The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

Five Common Myths of WAN Optimization

Posted by riverbedtest on May 25, 2010

"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.  Fiction, after all, has to make sense"

– Mark Twain

A key challenge in properly evaluating and selecting a WAN optimization product is distinguishing myth from reality.  Here are some common misconceptions about WAN optimization that can often lead to trouble:

Myth #1:  WAN optimization is a commodity - This view is promoted by vendors with weak offerings in WAN optimization.  Their goal is to convince customers that WAN optimization products are just like routers, switches, and other commodity products, and that it doesn't matter which vendor or product you choose.  The reality is that WAN optimization is a relatively new and fast-growing technology area.  There is a world of differentiation in the WAN optimizaiton offerings from the various vendors.  Not all vendor products can optimize the various types of protocols and applications that are found in your network.  Not all products are easy to use.  Not all products can scale to the requirements of your network environment. 

Myth #2:  The cheapest WAN optimization product provides the best value – The commoditization myth is often accompanied by the thinking that the cheapest product provides the best value.  The reality is that you get what you pay for.  If you want a luxury-class Mercedes automobile, then you have to pay for it–it would be unrealistic to expect to get a Mercedes for the price of a bare-bones economy car.  In a similar way it would be unrealistic to expect that the cheapest offering will deliver the best performance and scalability.  Vendors who discount their WAN optimization offerings do so in order to compensate for significant product deficiencies.  Riverbed may not be the lowest-priced offering, but the Steelhead solution clearly provides the best value and shortest return-on-investment. 

Myth #3: There's no need to talk to customer references as long as you're buying from Cisco – There's a certain level of trust that comes from buying from the largest network equipment vendor in the world. And in many cases, that trust is warranted, especially if you're buying Cisco's core commodity products such as routers and switches that many other customers use.  But there is a good reason why Cisco is not a leader in the WAN optimization market–there are numerous accounts of WAAS failing in production deployments, resulting in frustration and pain for WAAS users.  This alone is a good reason to make sure you talk to other customers who have attempted to use WAAS, before you try to do it yourself.

Myth#4:  A simple lab test will determine if a particular WAN optimization offering works for your environment — The reality is that just about all product offerings work well in a simple lab test (if they don't, well then they shouldn't even be in business).  The problem is that isolated lab environments only test a small subset of factors that are found in real-life production networks.  For example, isolated lab tests often don't expose data corruption issues that can result from connectivity outages and other unpredictable WAN behavior.  Isolated lab tests don't expose aggressive non-TCP behavior by some products that steal bandwidth from other applications sharing the WAN.  And isolated lab tests can't be conducted at a scale that exposes performance problems resulting from a per-peer data store architecture, as described in one of my previous blogs.  These, and an unlimited number of other issues can and will escape detection in a simple lab test.  Rather, the best way to determine if a particular WAN optimization offering will work in your environment is to talk to a reference customer who is using that product in a similar-sized network environment to your own.

Myth #5:  Cisco's next WAAS software release will finally catch up to Riverbed — Cisco has been competing with Riverbed since 2004.  And in each of these past years, Cisco has made bold claims that the next WAAS software release will fix all of the problems that afflicted earlier versions of WAAS and will finally catch up to Riverbed.  But despite Cisco's repeated pronouncements, today's WAAS users lack numerous capabilities that Riverbed customers enjoy, while continuing to suffer through stability issues that plague the latest WAAS software versions.  Rather than catch up to Riverbed, Cisco's WAAS product seems to be falling further behind.  But despite these observations, it's possible that we haven't seen the last of this myth.  At some point–perhaps later this year–Cisco will introduce yet another new WAAS software release.  This release, just like the countless other WAAS software releases before it, will also be proclaimed by Cisco to be nearly equivalent to Riverbed.  My suggestion:  don't hold your breath…

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