When Rich De Brino agreed to let a start-up come on-site and demonstrate how its technology could optimise video applications by aggregating multiple network connections, he didn't make it easy on the vendor.
"I said, 'We're going to take a Clearwire [wireless broadband] box and an AT&T broadband connection out to a parking lot with a video unit, and we want to be able to aggregate this bandwidth and use it,'" recalls De Brino, CIO at Advances in Technology, an IT services company in Everett, Wash. "And what do you know? It worked," he says.
The start-up was Talari Networks. Talari's appliances let enterprises combine private WANs with less-expensive broadband Internet links to get more bandwidth. The devices then steer traffic based on real-time route conditions.
"The appliance kills two birds for us," De Brino says. He first heard about Talari when he was wrestling with a tricky remote-site setup that needed video. "It allows us to have more bandwidth available for video. At the same time, if I lose any one of our connections, I'm not down. Instead of just redundancy, I can get redundancy and aggregation, which is so cool," he says.
Talari is a small player in a crowded field of application-acceleration and network-optimisation vendors. The market is enjoying plenty of attention as enterprises find many of their strategic IT initiatives - including server virtualisation, data-centre consolidation and disaster recovery - can benefit from a dose of application assistance.
Five of the biggest vendors in the market are Blue Coat Systems (which has acquired Packeteer), Cisco, Citrix Systems, F5 Networks and Riverbed Technology. On the surface these vendors seem alike, but they are very different underneath and in their strategic outlooks, says Jim Metzler, a principal at analyst group Ashton, Metzler & Associates.
"Some people might say, now that Blue Coat is buying Packeteer, this whole market is going to converge and soon we'll be down to two or three vendors that all look alike. But I just don't think that's going to happen," Metzler says. "This game is not over. There's lots of additional functionality being developed, in many cases by start-ups, and there are problems out there we're only beginning to address," he says.
Here are three other start-ups with innovative approaches to application acceleration and WAN optimisation.
Aspera's niche is bulk data transfers. Its fasp technology was launched in 2004 as an alternative to such conventional transfer methods as FTP, HTTP and CIFS. It uses UDP technology to achieve throughput independent of the latency of the path. It is designed to tolerate extreme packet loss and delay, and transfer speeds do not degrade with congestion or distance, the company says. Users control individual transfer rates and bandwidth sharing, and can make adjustments midstream. Aspera's customers include Apple iTunes and Sony.
Founded in 2005, FastSoft aims to speed file transfers across the WAN by working around TCP's packet-loss limitations. When its FastTCP protocol detects congestion on a link, it makes adjustments to avoid throttling transmissions back dramatically. The company employs a single-appliance model, so customers have to install an appliance only on one end of a WAN connection. FastSoft's customers include Post Group, a film post-production company; and Pacific Internet Exchange.
Accelerating Microsoft ASP.Net, Ajax and web-services-enabled applications is Strangeloop's specialty. The Strangeloop AS1000 Application Scaling Appliance improves the performance and scalability of web applications without changes to software, servers or the network. The appliance uses caching and data-reduction to make multipart pages load faster, reduce the load on servers and decrease bandwidth requirements, for example. The company's WS1000 Web Services Accelerator uses similar technology to accelerate web services performance. Strangeloop was founded in 2006. Its customers include The Scripps Research Institute and software maker Marqui.