Packeteer has introduced software for its PacketShaper bandwidth optimisation boxes that enables them to fix latency problems caused by inefficiencies in TCP/IP and HTTP. The new software could mean that Packeteer, the company which practically invented WAN optimisation 10 years ago, is catching up with the rivals that have leap-frogged it in recent years.

Called Xpress TCP and Xpress HTTP, the acceleration modules are optional add-ons for the latest release 8.0 of the PacketShaper operating system. Also new in release 8.0 are monitoring and compression capabilities for IP voice and video traffic, these also allow organisations to generate service level agreement statistics by examining RTP traffic for jitter, delay and packet loss.

The Xpress technology comes from Mentat, which had developed appliances to overcome latency issues on WANs, especially on satellite links, and was bought by Packeteer in 2004. As promised, it has now ported Mentat's software onto PacketShaper - a process which proved trickier than expected, according to PacketShaper product line manager Mark Urban.

The new software means that PacketShaper now has most of the capabilities offered by rivals such as Expand Networks, F5 Networks, Juniper, Orbital Data and Riverbed. Those include compression, TCP and web acceleration, caching, and quality of service (QoS). Still missing is WAFS - Packeteer last year partnered with Tacit Networks to fill this gap.

Mark Urban said that although his rivals tend to highlight TCP latency as the key issue in WAN acceleration, Packeteer has made fixing it an option because it believes that in many cases, network congestion is a bigger problem.

"There is a bit of hype around TCP acceleration, it has been marketed as a silver bullet but that does a disservice to customers - it's a useful tool but it's not the be-all and end-all," he said.

"We are educating customers as to where these technologies are useful, for example transactional applications suffer more from congestion than anything else. It feels like latency because response is slow, but the root cause is more often network congestion, which is where our QoS technology helps."

From its inception in 1996, Packeteer's strength has been its ability to deal with network congestion and maintain QoS by allocating specific chunks of bandwidth to specific applications. Urban said that since then, it has become apparent that different networks and applications require a variety of different acceleration technologies.

"We introduced compression three years ago to increase the capacity of the link, but now people have been seeing issues on tasks such as backup, large file transfers, and so on, where those applications interact with the latency in TCP/IP," he added.

"We are at least equal to or better than the point vendors on TCP latency now - Mentat had seven years experience of this."

He said that, apart from the TCP and web acceleration module, users with service contracts will get PacketShaper release 8.0 at no extra cost. The Xpress acceleration modules will cost from $250 to $10,000, depending on the model of PacketShaper.