Expand Networks claims that with its new Compass platform, it's finally got everything you might need to accelerate applications, all integrated into a single Linux-based appliance.

It also reckons the technology is ready to sell to non-technical managers as a solution for business challenges such as compliance and cost reduction, rather than as a fix for technical problems such as congested WAN links.

Compass is modular, with elements covering WAN optimisation, application acceleration, security, WAFS, and management and visibility - you just buy the modules you need to support your applications or business services, Expand said.

You can buy either a complete system or just the software - the latter is aimed at large users who don't want racks of appliances cluttering up their data centres, and would rather run the Expand software on a bunch of their own bladeservers.

Compass is also Expand's pitch for the multi-service 'branch in a box' market - a single device that extends the data centre out into branch offices and removes the need for local servers that must be managed and backed-up.

The big change for Expand is that it now wants to sell to directors and executives on the basis of business benefits, rather than as a fix for technical problems, said Chris Williams, Expand's chief marketing officer. "Our problem has been communicating what we do," he said.

"With Compass we're trying to elevate the message beyond pure technology. Our conversations with customers are much more application-centric now."

That sounds like swapping technical jargon for management mumbo-jumbo, but Williams pointed out that WAN appliances now span multiple areas of concern within organisations. For example, he said it is common for a customer to start off wanting to solve a specific problem, such as a slow network, then discover other areas where the same appliance could also contribute - compliance or WAFS storage, say.

Expand's problem is that it's not a huge organisation and it really only knows how to sell technology - Williams admitted as much when he described recently winning a 1200-site deal on the basis that the Expand boxes had technical features that Riverbed's Steelheads lacked.

As usual with technology companies, Expand's answer to this dilemma is to call in the resellers. Williams said that the company is readying a new channel programme for March - and Expand's rivals are sure to follow suit, if they aren't there already.

That means network managers can probably expect a few more puzzled calls from their bosses, asking them if these WAN acceleration thingies really are as great as the salesdroid said. Get your answers ready now...