Blue Coat Systems has become the latest company to enter the virtual appliance space. The company has released software-only versions of its WAN Optimization appliances to complement its existing hardware devices.

The new family of ProxySG Virtual appliances are available in four models for deployment in branch office environments ranging from ten to 300 users. The Virtual Appliance VA-5, VA-10, VA-15 and VA-20 will support up to 10, 50, 150 and 300 concurrent users, respectively

Nigel Hawthorn, Blue Coat's European marketing director, said that the software launch didn't mean that the company was abandoning its hardware strategy but said that it was important to offer a choice to its customers. "Companies want as few pieces of hardware as possible to reduce the associated IT costs, including power consumption. Not only that, by selling software rather than by selling appliances - which is capital expenditure - we're allowing people to move to opex spending."

The Proxy appliances will be built on industry standard platforms running VMware as many companies are now making the strategic decision to virtualise as much as possible. "We have one customer with retail branch outlets that could have as many as a dozen different hardware devices - server, firewall, print server etc - in a store. By using a software appliance, they can get everything on one device."

Hawthorn said that it wasn't just the cost of replacing the hardware but the saving on maintenance costs too." He agreed that the was a risk that running everything through one device meant there was a single point of value but companies who could afford it, would double up as backup.

The cost of the licence for a ten-useer remote office is less than £1000, compared to the lowest price for WAN device of £2000. However, the customer will also need a VMware licence too, so the cost differential isn't that huge. However, Hawthorn said that it wasn't wholly about the price of the product, more about reducing complexity and cutting maintenance costs.