April 19, 2014

SaaS Optimization: How WAN Acceleration Speeds Up the Cloud

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For years WAN optimization technology has been helping companies improve the performance of applications that must be delivered over long distances while also reducing the bandwidth required, in some cases dramatically so. But with the advent of software-as-a-service applications (SaaS), companies that use WAN optimization technology were basically out of luck. Since they don’t own both ends of the connection, they couldn’t very well install a WAN optimization appliance at each end.

Carousel Industries partner Riverbed Technology has changed that equation, as we cover in this information packed podcast with Joe Ghory, senior product manager at Riverbed. His company recently partnered with Akamai, the Web acceleration company, to offer an acceleration solution targeted at companies that use SaaS providers.

WAN Optimization – an Overview

WAN optimization technology improves performance in a number of different ways, Ghory says. First, it gets rid of lots of duplicate data. Riverbed’s Steelhead appliances, for example, can recognize patterns that it has seen before, such as a company logo. Instead of transmitting the logo across the wide-area, it sends only a 16-byte reference to it and the logo is then taken out of a local cache at the destination end. The technology also performs protocol manipulation to reduce the number of handshakes that a protocol such as TCP/IP typically requires, which can hinder performance over long distances. Taken together, these techniques enable LAN-like performance over wide-area networks, improving application performance from 5 times to 100 times while reducing bandwidth requirements by as much as 99%.

The SaaS and Hybrid Cloud WAN Optimization Challenge

To do all that, customers need to have a Steelhead appliance at each of their locations. That’s where companies often run into a stumbling block when they employ SaaS applications or other forms of hybrid cloud offerings. “As you move to a third party vendor, what you trade for costs savings is they may offer a little less control,” Ghory says. “One thing that’ll be most immediately noticeable is control on a performance level. You have to think of end user performance. It it’s not as good as what they’re experiencing currently, your entire project is at risk of failure.”

The distance between the SaaS provider and the end user will “absolutely” affect performance, he notes. But the opportunity to put in something like a Steelhead appliance is probably going to be limited. “They want to offer a turnkey solution,” Ghory says. “So you’re limited by both geography and accessibility and both can wreak havoc on performance.”

A WAN Optimization Solution for the Cloud

To address the issue, Riverbed has partnered with Akamai to offer Steelhead Cloud Accelerator, an optimization solution that works to improve the performance of three big SaaS providers: Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps. Customers order the service online, priced on a per-user basis like most SaaS applications. They then upgrade the code on their existing Steelhead appliances and enter the URL of the SaaS provider. At that point, “we install a Steelhead Cloud Accelerator right at the edge, in the Akamai network, mere milliseconds away from the SaaS provider so that from that point you can offer end-to-end optimization that would otherwise be impossible,” Ghory says.

For most people, access to SaaS providers means connecting via the public Internet. With the Riverbed offering, you’re instead connecting via the Akamai network, which provides far greater availability, security and performance. And customers will also realize all the usual Steelhead benefits, including LAN-like performance and up to 99% bandwidth savings.

To learn more about Steelhead Cloud Accelerator, check out our full conversation with Joe Ghory. For details on how to make this solution a reality inside your company, contact Carousel today.

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