Techworld's recent conference on WAN optimisation saw representatives of seven vendors take the stage to answer questions from the audience on development direction for this technology. Here's some of the questions and answers from that session.

Q: What happened to WAFS - has it gone away?

Our speakers said it's clear that there are storage-related problems, but there are other problems too - indeed, sometimes what users think is a file access problem is really a problem somewhere else. WAFS is being subsumed due to a growing realisation that the various problems need to be dealt with together, rather than piecemeal.

Jay Mellman, director of marketing for Cisco's application networking group: You have a series of application and network protocols, and you have to have the ability to deal with both. What you're seeing is an understanding that it's not just a problem of files.

Mark Lewis, Riverbed's EMEA marketing director: Different people have different issues to address. We are seeing convergence within the data centre of IT, storage, applications and networking.

Manickam Sridhar, CTO of Converged Access: The trend over the next 18 months is that Microsoft has to wake up, because 90 percent of the problem is Microsoft protocols. When they solve that, you're left with how do you solve the one-to-many problem, and how do you solve Microsoft driving gigabytes of data across the network.

Paul Gracie, EMEA VP at Silver Peak Systems: We have seen tenders for WAFS, but what they're really looking for is acceleration.

Simon Jackson, Packeteer's UK support manager: The WAFS market was created because something was broken and it needed fixing.

Jay Mellman: When you consolidate, you have to fix the problems of people getting access, and those problems are exacerbated by Microsoft protocols which were never designed to be used like that.

Q: What about service providers and WAN optimisation?

The panel agreed that there's much potential for embedding optimisation within WAN services, but warned that it's a complex business, which much tuning and adaptation to be done.

Manickam Sridhar: The relationship between MPLS and acceleration is quite complementary. It is up to you to ensure you got the markings right.

James Sherlow, technical services VP at Expand Networks EMEA: You have to have a full picture of the network, because otherwise application acceleration could end up flooding the network.

Jay Mellman: Very slowly, the service providers are realising they can offer differentiated services - but they still think Layer 2 and 3, not Layer 7.

Simon Jackson: We do a lot of work with service providers, but it's a very uncomfortable relationship. You don't know what you're getting half the time, and quality can be quite different across providers. Even within transactions, the properties of the network can change.

Q: What's next for WAN optimisation?

It's no surprise that our panellists predicted the technology's spread, potentially right down to the individual remote user's laptop - but they also warned that while application performance might improve, that could be at the cost of creating a more complex network that's harder to run. It's going to need a lot of work to create management and provisioning structures, they said.

Alain Thibaud, F5 Networks' EMEA technical director: We will see a software clients for road warriors from a lot of vendors.

Mark Lewis: We are introducing a new way of rolling out applications and networks. We are seeing larger and smaller appliances, and they will see much wider acceptance. But are we improving the network or adding complexity?

Jay Mellman: All the vendors have to work for network transparency. Also they have to consider integration with other services over the network, such as video for training, or software provisioning - for example, the concept of a virtual branch provisioned and sent over the network.