It’s natural for companies, as they grow, to want to do even more, to add more business and employees and locations, and to increase their revenues. This effort is, after all, how most companies grow, and the old maxim is “it takes money to make money.” Your business grows and requires more resources to support it, which in turn drives more growth, and so on.
For many businesses, growth comes through expansion of geographical reach. This observation is true for retail locations and restaurants, and it’s true for places like banks and real-estate brokerages as well. In fact, a large percentage of businesses worldwide depend on their remote branches and geographical reach to expand their business.
But one aspect of that growth that might go unappreciated is the infrastructure that must be put in place to support that growth. And that’s where a lot of companies, regardless of size, get tripped up: by failing to realize what needs to be in place to enable that growth, and failing to support diverse locations as they in turn grow.
And one of the places that best illustrates that point lies in the network. A common issue for many companies is the network costs for a given location as they relate to the revenues generated by that same location. In other words, it’s a catch-22: you don’t want to spend a ton of budget on a location that isn’t producing a ton of revenue, but how will it produce enough revenue without the support it needs?
Managing the Network for Growth
And that’s really where CIOs and networking directors make their money: by balancing the needs of the business on the one hand against the budgetary pressures on the other. But for those tasked with supporting the business on a tight budget—and really, who isn’t—there are a number of strategies to employ in keeping the costs of the network down while facilitating business growth at the same time.
By employing lower-cost network types and smart network management, network managers are finding ways to save on costs without sacrificing performance. This effort, in turn, has the effect of supporting remote locations and their needs while keeping overall costs to a minimum.
One of the better strategies for optimizing WAN lies in WAN virtualization and the concept of broadband bonding.
In a nutshell, WAN virtualization makes use of diverse network links to present a unified channel to a location. WAN virtualization employs intelligence at a higher layer—the network management layer—to take different channels, such as lower-cost broadband lines, and essentially bond them together at a logical layer. Doing so makes them appear to be a single unified pipe.
This virtualization, then, allows the company to use lower-cost broadband lines and make them behave like a single, much larger one at a fraction of the cost. WAN virtualization also takes other aspects into account, managing the different underlying connections for throughput and availability to maximize the overall quality of the virtual channel.
All of this effort leads to network connectivity that supports not only the remote locations, but also the enterprise as a whole, reducing costs while increasing performance. And it usually produces an ROI that the company can realize in just a few months.
The Other Side of the WAN-Optimization Coin
In any network, there are really two primary aspects to consider when looking at ways to optimize throughput: the network itself and the data moving across that network. It’s really just about that simple.
And just as companies can look at WAN virtualization to create virtual circuits to expand their network capacity, they can also look at ways to optimize the traffic moving across that network.
Some of the more effective methods of WAN optimization include the following:
- Deduplication: One of the hotter areas of WAN optimization, deduplication, reduces transmitted data to only those elements that are truly unique. In other words, it looks at the files sent across networks at very granular levels, and when it sees a redundant file, it only sends those parts of the file that have changed, reducing overall traffic and limiting the data transmission to just what’s needed to rebuild the file on the other end, reducing redundancy and waste.
- Caching: Caching is somewhat related to deduplication in that it examines common files that are often sent across the network and then looks at components that are redundant—that is, those that are sent over and over again. An especially useful example is an enterprise that uses an intranet with a company logo on its pages. Rather than transmit that logo every single time an employee hits the intranet, caching allows network devices to hold that image and serve it up to the remote user locally. Users thus avoid having to pull it across the network every time they hit the intranet.
- Data compression: Even more ubiquitous than either deduplication or caching is data compression, whereby a file is examined to see where “white space,” or data blocks that are redundant or empty, can be eliminated and replicated on the far end. This technique further reduces unnecessary traffic on the network.
Controlling the Traffic
Even in networks that practice WAN virtualization and optimization, it’s important to retain a focus on management of the network itself to ensure that the right traffic has priority and that network-protocol “chattiness” is kept to an absolute minimum. Doing so reduces the overhead that’s introduced on many networks by the network itself.
By prioritizing traffic and monitoring the network, administrators can often locate areas where traffic can be optimized or even reduced, prolonging the effectiveness of the network as the business grows. By monitoring different applications and their network utilization, IT groups can also identify applications than make the heaviest use of the network and perhaps identify ways to further optimize their traffic requirements—perhaps by distributing those applications to the remote locations or by moving them to the cloud, for instance.
The Reality of Network Management
Many CIOs and IT directors would like to believe the networks that support their business can be set in place and never touched again. But the reality is that the network powering your business is an evolving entity in its own right, and as the business grows, so will the network.
But with the right management and optimization, the network can be among the most cost-effective elements of any IT infrastructure, delivering value to the enterprise and enabling applications that would’ve been impossible previously. For those who take care of their WAN, their WAN will take of the enterprise for years to come.
About the Author
Dr. Cahit Jay Akin is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, providing broadband products and solutions for a range of Internet applications.