After watching customers continually download and install one of the vendor's free, limited products from the company website, Silver Peak CEO Rick Tinsley was interested to see how they would respond to the same access to its more advanced products.

That idea gave birth to the Virtual WAN Optimization Marketplace, an online resource launching Tuesday where customers can download free, 30-day trial versions of Silver Peak's virtual WAN optimisation tools.

Although Tinsley says he expects customers with remote branch offices in international locations to jump at an opportunity to deploy software over the Internet, some of which he says "incur as much cost in shipping and physical installation as they incur purchasing the product itself," he acknowledged that the virtual marketplace will be a valuable experiment on the market's preferences for software delivery as a whole.

"Our mission is to make this WAN optimisation technology available in as many different ways as possible, and let the market choose how it wishes to consume it," Tinsley says.

Part of the inspiration for the idea stems from an entirely free WAN optimisation application called Vxx, which had been successful on Silver Peak's website. Consistent attention toward the self-service nature of installing and deploying the product is what Tinsley saw as a sign that customers may be interested in accessing its other WAN optimisation tools in the same fashion.

"We saw so many customers completely self-service, downloading this thing and installing it successfully and getting great value from it, that we said 'let's go ahead and open this up to other customers,'" Tinsley says. "Larger customers, who had liked to evaluate our larger pay products, maybe just want to do it themselves."

Physical trial versions will still be available

Silver Peak had offered trial versions of its products in the past, Tinsley says. The process, however, involved the customer submitting a form on the Silver Peak website, after which a manual process between a sales representative and the customer would be carried out. Although the virtual marketplace will not replace the manual process that some customers may still prefer, Tinsley believes it's a step toward a trend that could catch on quickly.

"That seems to be where the industry's going," Tinsley says. "Obviously, the physical appliances don't go away. We still have a lot of customers who prefer physical appliances, especially for the very large data center locations, but in many cases customers find virtual versions of these products more cost-effective."

Silver Peak is betting quite heavily on further growth of this trend, as Tinsley says virtual WAN optimisation tools will account for 50 percent of the company's offerings by the end of 2013.

That bet may be a safe one, says Joe Skorupa, a research vice president at Gartner, where he is part of the Data Center Transformation and Security Research unit. Although some competitors have potential to take a similar approach, such as the market leading Riverbed, whose acquisition of Zeus last summer may enable it to offer a similar solution, Skorupa says Silver Peak will gain valuable attention for breaking the mold.

"I think Silver Peak will have an advantage here for some period of time," Skorupa says. "It's always valuable for a smaller, less-visible company to show up with a thought-leading way of doing something. So it will get attention, and it will get people considering them that may not have considered them in the past."

However, Silver Peak will not remain out in front for long, Skorupa says, as the hype around its new virtual marketplace may prompt others to attempt to catch up quickly.

The WAN optimisation market needs a shake-up

"If Silver Peak sees significant success, if people start asking their competitors where their downloadable version is, I have no doubt the competition will follow," Skorupa says.

The advantage afforded through the virtual marketplace will only boost an already rapidly growing company. Silver Peak's renewed focus on WAN optimisation is what differentiated itself enough to earn it a spot in Gartner's Leaders Quadrant for the WANOpt market last month, alongside Riverbed and Cisco.

With some success in its latest initiative further pushing it along, Silver Peak could very likely disrupt a market that Cindy Borovick, IDC program vice president for Enterprise Data Center Networks, says is poised for a shakeup.

"When you think about the strategic importance of the enterprise network and the connectivity out to customers, partners, taking advantage of cloud services, or even just using your own internally owned data centers to create an active-active [network] or an overall disaster recovery strategy, there's a real focus on that WAN architecture," Borovick says. "And we believe the combination of network intelligence and WAN expertise is really going to start to change. We'll start to see some vendor changes and acquisitions."

Silver Peak appears to be striking at an opportune time, as well. Earlier this year, IDC predicted the market for WAN optimisation and network intelligence tools to reach $1.3 billion (£828 million) by the end of 2012, outpacing growth for the overall network equipment market as a whole.