Blue Coat has released SG Client - WAN acceleration software for Windows XP which does TCP optimisation, data compression and CIFS caching by talking to a Blue Coat WAN acceleration appliance at the head office.
It can speed up remote access to corporate systems for teleworkers, mobile users and users in small branch offices, the company said.
SG Client is the first stage in a broader strategy which will also roll in security features, in the shape of Blue Coat's SSL VPN access and URL/web filtering technologies. A version for Vista is on the way as well, said Blue Coat's international marketing VP, Nigel Hawthorn.
"We really think remote users in offices and at home need something on the PC that gives them all the same options that people in big offices have – the full set," he added. "But customers came to us and said what they really need first is acceleration; they said 'We have users complaining that when they are travelling and in hotel rooms, access is really slow.'"
Blue Coat is not alone is this realisation – most other vendors in the WAN optimisation space are working on PC client software. Hawthorn suggested that it could act as a separator, dividing those who already have experience in client PC software – typically for SSL VPNs and endpoint security – from those who have only developed data centre appliances thus far.
Others, such as Silver Peak's worldwide marketing VP Craig Stouffer, say it divides those with an edge-based strategy from those who focus on the WAN core. He said that while the PC is potentially a good market, the question is how to deliver the software – for example, should it be a locally installed client, or a dynamically downloaded browser agent?
He added that appliances are higher value sales, and even without including PCs, there are more than enough office endpoints to sell appliances into.
However, Hawthorn argued that the need for PC-based WAN optimisation is more pressing than some people might think.
"When I do presentations, I ask who's remotely-accessed their corporate systems already today," he said. "Recently, at 9am in Copenhagen, 50 percent put their hands up. Now I understand why people feel this need."
To a certain extent, PC-based WAN optimisation is a re-convergence of technologies that split apart some time in the past. For instance, when modems were slow it was not uncommon to add data compression on top, but as links speeded up, the extra processor load involved no longer justified the advantage gained.
Now though, the growing use of web-based applications and the Internet has made network latency more of a problem, and higher processor speeds have made real-time compression feasible once again.
Blue Coat said that SG Client will cost from $85 (£43) to as little as $20 (£10) in volume.
The company also announced a new release of the operating software for its WAN acceleration appliances, designed to make the technology easier to deploy and manage. Hawthorn said this reflects the move by customers from tactical 'fix the link from the London office to the Dubai office' needs towards strategic 'put this in everywhere' decisions.
"So now vendors have to make systems that are easy to deploy and manage on a large scale, that won't break Cisco NetFlow, will allow dynamic clustering, and so on," he said. "For example, we have a director appliance which lets you define policy and push it to many boxes at once.
"This market is growing fast as it shifts from being an early adopter technology to mass adoption," he concluded. "If you look at performance tests, the top 10 companies here are all roughly similar. It's like cars - once everyone can do 0-60 quickly enough, the decision moves on to looks and reliability."