WAN optimization is a catch-all phrase for making a network more efficient. However, few products distinguish between optimizing a WAN link and optimizing an Internet link. Yet, the methods used for the latter do not necessarily overlap with WAN optimization. In this article, we’ll break down the differences and similarities between the two practices and explain why WAN optimization tends to be the more common, yet not necessarily most effective, of the two techniques when it comes to overall network optimization.
Some Basic Definitions
A WAN link is always a point-to-point link where an institution/business controls both ends of the link. However, a WAN link does not provide Internet access.
On the other hand, an Internet link is one where one end terminates in a business/home/institution and the other end terminates in the Internet cloud, thus providing the former with Internet access.
A VPN link is a special case of a WAN link where the link traverses across the public Internet to get to another location within an organization. This is not an Internet link by our definition mentioned above.
Whether dealing with a small business, a home user, or public entities such as libraries, schools etc., there are far more Internet links out there than WAN links. Each of these entities will most certainly have a dedicated Internet link while many will not have a WAN link.
Some Common Questions
If Internet links far outnumber WAN links, why are there so many commercial products dedicated to optimizing WAN links and so few specifically dedicated to Internet optimization?
There are a few reasons for this:
- WAN optimization is fairly easy to measure and quantify, so a WAN optimization vendor can easily demonstrate their value by showing before and after results.
- Many WAN-based applications — Citrix, SQL queries, etc. — are inherently inefficient and in need of optimization.
- The market is flooded with vendors and analysts (such as Gartner) which all tend to promote and sustain the WAN optimization market.
- WAN optimization tools also double as reporting and monitoring tools, which administrators gravitate toward.
- A large number of commercial Internet connection are located at Small or medium sized business and and the ROI on an optimization device for their Internet Link is either not that compelling or not understood.
Why is a WAN optimizing tool not the best tool to optimize an Internet link? Don’t the methodologies overlap?
Most of the methods used by a WAN optimizing appliance make use of two principles:
- The organization owns both ends of the link and will use two optimizing devices — one at each end. For example, compression techniques require that you own both ends of the link. As mentioned earlier, you cannot control both ends of an Internet link.
- The types of traffic running over a WAN Link are consistent and well defined. Organizations tend to do the same thing over and over again on their internal link. Yet, on an Internet link, the traffic varies from minute to minute and cannot be easily quantified.
So, how does one optimize unbounded traffic coming into an Internet link?
You need an appliance such as a NetEqualizer that dynamically manages over all flows for more information you can read. But, don’t take it from us, you can also check in on what existing NetEqualizer users are saying.
How does a company quantify the cost of using a device to optimize their Internet link?
Admittedly, the results may be a bit subjective. The good news is that optimization companies will normally allow you to try an appliance before you buy. On the other hand, most Internet providers will require you to purchase a fixed length contract.
The fact of the matter is that an Internet link can be rendered useless by a small number of users during peak times. If you blindly upgrade your contract to accommodate this problem, it is akin to buying gourmet lunches for some employees while feeding everybody else microwave popcorn. In the end, the majority will be unhappy.
While the appropriate network optimization technique will vary from situation to situaiton, Internet optimization appliances tend to work well under most circumstances and are worth implementing. Or, at the very least, they’re worth exploring before signing on to a long-term bandwidth increase with your ISP.
See: Related Discussion on Internet Congestion and predictability.