Buyer’s Checklist for WAN Optimization

Purchase decisions are never easy with the information one has access to, these days. Right from a new phone to an entire global networking strategy, the savvy consumer researches, validates, checks reviews and then buys.

Considering the lead times and price points, network infrastructure purchase decisions are of the worst kind. They are usually not centralized and need to be effective for every enterprise location across the globe. And they have a direct bearing on business critical elements such as collaboration, usage of enterprise applications and worker productivity. Wrong choices are not easy to correct.

Due to the high costs associated with WAN Optimization appliances and the alternatives in the market place, buyers make a complex feature-price-performance tradeoff to justify the ROI.   Benchmarks, datasheets, performance briefs and claims by vendors, trials and the final decision. The reality is that most mature WAN optimization products will give more or less similar performance figures on typical inter-office traffic such as HTTP or file transfers.

Other factors in the decision making become critical for an organization transforming itself like support for cloud, mobility, BYOD and more. Identifying the right business drivers and evolving technology needs in your company is key to selecting the right provider. Its certainly not a one size fits all.

1. First ask yourself why?

Why do you need WAN Optimization and what is it going to do for your specific use case? As we wrote on one of our previous blogs, the business need determines the right solution or even the requirement of a solution. While WAN optimization is quite mainstream and not the niche technology it was at one time, different use cases do exist. At times, the need may not warrant the investment (for example, a small sales office in a remote region where most users work from their home office) or WAN optimization may simply not solve the problem (like real time applications). Perhaps you are acquiring a company and looking to bring up a branch office quickly, trying to put in WAN optimization with MPLS will only delay the deployment by months.

2. Is the solution scalable enough to grow with your organization’s vision?

Your organization will continue to grow – and so will your network requirements. How well can the chosen solution scale with your business? Will it involve significant additional capital expenditure? Every time you add an office, will you need to add a bigger appliance at the datacenter? Do you need multiple appliances to get the required level of redundancy?

If your organization’s growth is fairly stable, an on-premise solution with pre-determined capacity may be the safe route. But if you are a younger company in high-growth mode, your business needs should dictate your infrastructure, not the other way around. You should be able to add capacity on demand to handle spikes and locations to handle growth. Agility and flexibility are no longer ‘nice-to-haves’.

3. CapEx versus OpEx?

Buying  ’boxes’ is not the end of the story; post installation, most appliances involve two major ongoing cost components – maintenance resources and support contracts. Also, periodically, the cost of upgrades has to be considered, whether to software or hardware. Make sure you ask your vendor about “end of life” expectations that you should be setting.

Therefore, the list price is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the overall cost of ownership. If the vendor provides a trial, make sure the performance you get justifies the cost involved. Again, this makes a case for the cloud too – the cloud delivers not only zero capital expenditure, but also constant upgrades on the fly without you needing to worry about it.

4. Does the solution help with the transformation of IT?

With developing trends in enterprise network usage such as Big Data, BYOD, cloud-based applications and an increasingly mobile workforce, can the solution take on the increasing demands on the WAN? And does it extend to the fuzzy boundaries of this new WAN including the application performance needs of remote users and cloud services alike?

5. Is it an all-inclusive purchase or you still have more to buy?

A global optimized WAN is not just the WAN Optimizer but also the underlying network and end-end visibility. With both the Internet as well as MPLS having clear pros and cons, enterprises may need to look at solutions that can bridge the two current traditional options to give a viable and efficient hybrid option.

6. Would a hardware appliance, a virtual appliance or NO appliance be the right footprint?

WAN optimization is now available in different shapes, sizes and flavors.  The traditional hardware appliances have extended to virtual and appliance-free cloud based optimization. Each has their pros and cons- what works for one organization may not work for others.

When a hardware-based optimization model is preferred, the cost and complexity of ramping up new offices grows significantly. Also, both virtualized and hardware solutions have capacity restrictions in terms of number of connections, bandwidth, storage and more depending on the vendor and the size. A cloud-based solution, however, gives you the added benefit of nearly unlimited supply of optimization on-tap with a monthly subscription.

7. Do you get a few pieces of the puzzle or the entire solution?

And finally – what else comes included? A lot of vendors have add-on charges for 24×7 support, visibility, and monitoring and portal access. These value added services make the difference between a product and an actual solution that solves not only the immediate problem, but allows the enterprise to meet their business goals.

With the lines blurring between the feature sets and performance statistics of vendors, it becomes even more necessary to note the support credentials of the vendor you are considering. After all, the product is only as good as the time it takes to get fixed when broken!

8. A free trial anyone?

Always demand a free trial from the top 1-2 vendors on your shortlist that meet all your business requirements. A real world trial, not just a test setup in a lab. What can be better than trying before you buy to validate   your decision!

WAN Optimization is pretty commonplace for IT budgeting today – but decisions are rarely straightforward. Hopefully we helped make your decision-making a bit simpler and more agile!

– Aryaka Marketing


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