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In Pictures: Top tools for WAN optimisation

Upstarts Exinda and Ipanema challenge network optimisation kingpin, Riverbed

  • We invited every major network optimization vendor to participate in this review, and ended up with seven contenders. 1. Blue Coat Mach5 editions of the SG300-25 and SG900-10 2. Cisco Wide Area Virtualization Engine WAVE-7541, Cisco 4451-AX ISR and 2900-AX ISR. 3. Citrix Systems CloudBridge 2000 4. Exinda Networks Model 6862 and 10862 running x800-series software 5. Ipanema Technologies ip|engine 1000ax and ip|engine 20ax, 6. Riverbed Steelhead CXA-5050 and CXA-555 7. Silver Peak Systems VX-1000 and VX-5000. Here are the results:

  • We hoped Blue Coat would deliver the Holy Grail: performance, visibility, and control, but what we got in Mach5 was a disappointment. One of the most experienced proxy engineering teams built the Proxy SG and Blue Coat also owns an amazingly strong technology with their PacketShaper product. Yet Blue Coat delivered a GUI from the dark ages, minimal feature set, and none of the technology that could have made Mach5 best in class. Although Blue Coat was the only vendor in our test who actually understood the right way to handle SSL decryption, that’s not enough to save them from finishing in the middle of the pack.

  • Citrix CloudBridge (formerly Branch Repeater) turned in respectable performance, but failed to wow us on any front and had more bugs than expected for a v7 release. The lack of strong traffic management and exportable visibility features kept it out of the top ranks of products. Network managers who use XenDesktop might be tempted to pick Citrix for network optimization, but there is no advantage there -- XenDesktop is already optimized, and except for heavy mapped drives or printing use, there’s not much anyone can do to speed XenDesktop, including Citrix. CloudBridge may be a re-launch of an old product, but Citrix needs a heavier engineering investment before it will be competitive.

  • Cisco’s integrated IOS + WAAS appliances are the only way to go; the old standalone WAVE devices don’t make it anymore. IOS integration comes with both incredible value and a ton of baggage. Picking Cisco for network optimization is only a good choice if you want Cisco for every part of branch networking. The good news is that the WAAS and IOS combination on ISR hardware delivers a strong set of services including Call Manager Express for VoIP along with wireless and LAN switching options. Would we pick WAAS all by itself for optimization? Definitely not. But if you’re going down the ISR path in the branch, adding WAAS gives huge value without disruption.

  • Exinda is one of the upstarts that IT managers should keep an eye on. An aggressive feature set in a stable product is combined with average overall performance and outstanding visibility and control feature sets. This made the Exinda appliances favorites in our testing. Exinda’s big weakness is a chaotic management system. However, Exinda is clearly thinking about today’s network issues and building products to facilitate cloud-based application deployment. We consider this a “must include” for any network manager’s short list.

  • Ipanema is an aggressive small vendor with a new approach to network optimization. We were impressed by the strength of Ipanema’s Salsa management system and the power of their global traffic management system, unique in the marketplace, that manages bandwidth across a meshed WAN -- a common topology in today’s networks. To accomplish its magic, though, Ipanema has a fairly strict way of thinking about application management that has severe limits. Poor ability to export application visibility information and some brittleness in design and features makes us cautious in recommending the solution. However, any network manager interested in optimizing WAN application delivery and multiple branch office links should evaluate Ipanema.

  • There’s no question that Riverbed knows WAN optimization, and if you’re determined to get the last bit of performance out of every protocol on every network, Steelhead does a great job. However, Riverbed has failed to take the lead in other areas we care about, including traffic management and visibility. Riverbed is our Clear Choice Test winner and merits a spot on every network manager’s short list. But we’re a little concerned that Riverbed might be resting on its laurels rather than being out in front in some of these areas.

  • Silver Peak’s VX-series (we tested the VM version rather than the NX-series appliance) kicked most of the market to the curb when it came to performance improvements. However, Silver Peak’s early focus on data center-to-data center replication cost them points in our testing as we found a less mature product for branch office environments. Traffic management tools, SSL, Citrix and CIFS/SMB support all lagged the market, and the management software is in the middle of a major transition. For pure performance improvement, Silver Peak is amazingly cost-effective and does a great job. For large branch office deployments, there’s still some engineering left to go into the product.

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