Microsoft and Packeteer have announced a box designed to work with Windows applications to speed up WAN connections in branch offices.

The new Packeteer iShaper device will let IT workers manage and speed up WAN traffic in branch offices while using Microsoft technologies such as Active Directory and the Internet Security and Acceleration Server to boost security protections, said Bala Kasiviswanathan, director of Windows Server branch and storage solutions at Microsoft.

Microsoft and Packeteer will jointly sell the iShaper appliance, which is being made by Packeteer.

"Certainly, it has potential," said Scott Erickson, chief technology officer at Erickson Retirement Communities, which builds and manages retirement homes in Maryland. He uses Packeteer's existing PacketShaper appliance and is beta-testing the new device which, he says, is cheap enough at $11,000, to install one in each new branch office as his company grows.

Erickson also hopes to use iShaper to combine file services and other applications with his WAN to transmit bulky engineering drawings and other materials that field engineers need to access.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group in Boston, said the joint marketing arrangement between the two vendors gives Microsoft the ability to sell additional server-level software to customers attracted by Packeteer's acceleration technology. "It's incremental for Microsoft, and any box Packeteer sells is the upside for Microsoft," he said.

But Riverbed Technology has outdone Packeteer on sales over the past two years and is the leader in the application acceleration market, according to Kerravala. "Packeteer had their chance after 10 years in the market and let Riverbed walk right over them," he said, adding that Citrix also offers WAN optimisation products.

The iShaper product supports over 600 applications and is aimed at branch offices with more than 50 end users, Microsoft and Packeteer said. Shipments are slated to start later this quarter, and additional models are due by year's end.