Smart Consolidation: Make Branch Offices Server Free with WAN Appliances

By | July 20, 2015

A version of this article, with complete coverage of  branch office WAN appliances, use cases and recommendations is available this Channel Partners report.

With the pressure on IT to deliver new services without bigger budgets, organizations large and small are under pressure to cut costs and increase efficiency while simultaneously improving application performance and security. It’s a tall order, but an effective strategy borrows a page from the cloud provider playbook by consolidating data center operations to very few locations. The plan exploits economies of scale and new technology like Moore’s Law price/performance improvements in hardware, new infrastructure management software and steady increases in WAN bandwidth. Moving servers, and more importantly data, out of branch offices can lower costs, particularly for operations and support, and improve disaster readiness, data resilience and information security.

Branch offices have a diverse employee population with equally varied needs. Source Forrester

Branch offices have a diverse employee population with equally varied needs.
Source Forrester

Yet the strategy hinges on the proper WAN design and associated remote office/branch office (ROBO) infrastructure: inadequately provision remote users and they can easily turn into unproductive second-class citizens. Fortunately, there are many technological tools available to IT partners that can stitch a distributed organization into a digital business run on consolidated IT infrastructure. In earlier reports we outlined new options for WAN connectivity and cloud-based WAN services [links] that provide key elements of the network design. Here we focus on the ROBO equipment and options for turnkey, remotely manageable systems that require little more from local staffers than the ability to plug in a couple cables.

Start with the WAN

As I detailed in an earlier report, there are a plethora of services suitable for stitching together a distributed enterprise. “Rather than settling for expensive T-1 links, where it makes sense, network managers can opt for a business broadband service and VPN gateway providing 30 times the throughput at one-third the cost. Or why not ditch the VPN entirely and use a cloud service to build an enterprise WAN over any Internet connection, including employee smartphones using hotel Wi-Fi?” In sum: Get the fastest, least expensive WAN connection you can for each site, use a backup service that needn’t be of the same caliber (even wireless), but that’s sufficient in a pinch, and optimize the daylights out of both.

WAN Optimization appliances enable LAN-like performance.  Source: Cisco

WAN Optimization appliances enable LAN-like performance.
Source: Cisco

Provisioning the right pipes is just the start. WAN optimization software insures that they are used efficiently, squeezing every bit of usable performance out of each megabit. It does this by using various techniques to minimize traffic, reduce latency, prioritize real-time and mission-critical applications, optimize chatty protocols and accelerate application designed for WAN links. As the report details, as WAN optimization appliances have matured, they have taken on features like link load balancing, VPN termination and file/Web caching that were previously implemented in other appliances making them single-box solutions for many branch office situations. For those needing some local horsepower, converged appliances incorporate more powerful CPUs and a hypervisor.

The report details several business recommendations:

  • Updating and hardening WAN links can eliminate performance bottlenecks and network downtime
  • Optimizing WAN traffic increases the network’s usable capacity, performance and reliability.
  • Provisioning ROBO locations requires the proper hardware for accessing remote data, plus centralized data storage.

Video stream splitting allows an appliance to serve multiple copies of the same content from a single network stream. Source: Riverbed