'Tis the time of year for market forecasts. This week's comes from research firm IDC, which before year-end released its forecast for the world-wide WAN application delivery market.

IDC expects this market, which peaked at $670 million in 2006, to reach about $920 million in 2011. And the research firm doesn't expect the competition among vendors to slow down in the coming year. As more enterprise and SMB companies realise the potential of more streamlined operations and cost savings, WAN optimisation and application acceleration players will continue to fight tooth and nail for those budget dollars, IDC predicts.

"Vendor activity will remain brisk because these products hold the key to unlock the greater IT opportunity for suppliers at the remote branch," the analyst report reads.

Though in 2007 the landscape will change slightly as more vendors work to incorporate technology features critical to the branch into their current operating systems and devices. For the purpose of background, IDC defines WAN application delivery as a convergence of secure content, application delivery and WAN optimisation technologies, which have existed stand-alone or as part of suites from vendors.

IDC also includes wide-area file services (WAFS) technology. This works by reducing the chattiness of Microsoft's CIFS and the Unix/Linux NFS protocols, and decreases the latency of WAN communications by eliminating much of the round-trip traffic.

This updated market category in part reflects the evolution of the now multipurpose technologies designed to help IT buyers deliver high-performing application to remote and branch offices.

"Products in the WAN application delivery market must have the following features to be included in the market: compression of data streams, ability to monitor traffic flows, traffic prioritisation, bandwidth optimisation and caching. These products are deployed in the branch and in the data centre," IDC reports.

The goal of optimising wide-area communications isn't the only way WAN application delivery products offer benefits. As more companies work to centralise computing (meaning they swap out five servers in a branch office for one of these multifunctional appliances) the technology also proves to reduce costs while securing content and speeding application traffic.

"In addition to providing bandwidth optimisation and savings, they are enabling secure consolidation of the file servers, e-mails and print services of these applications across the WAN," IDC says.