Orbital Data has produced what it claims is the only WAN accelerator capable of adjusting data flows on the fly.

The Orbital 6000's big advantage is simplicity, said Orbital's CEO Dick Pierce. "The market has been characterised to date by those who integrate the most will win," he said. "We think simpler and smarter will win - we've been working very hard to integrate additional components in a way that maintains simplicity.

"The aim is to select the best set of algorithms both at set-up and dynamically. They work together to create a multiplier, for example CIFS acceleration cuts down on the message ping-ponging, then compression and flow control cut it when you copy a file."

Orbital started out offering TCP flow control technology alone - it has around 75 customers using its first-generation devices - but has now added compression, service class policies and application-specific optimisation for CIFS and FTP.

"If you're going to get full utilisation out of a link, no one technique alone is the answer," said Pierce. "Then it becomes how you put them together and integrate them. We are the only vendor that has applied brains to the process - to pick and choose what to apply, and how much to apply, to each flow in real-time."

"AutoOptimization has the potential to be quite important," said analyst Jim Metzler of Ashton, Metzler & Associates. "The interaction between networks and applications is complex, and not many people understand it, so you don't want to leave it to humans, not in real-time anyway. The more you can automate, the better."

The Orbital technology could well be unique - for now at least, he added. "I think they are the first to come out with this across all the components," he said, noting that some other WAN accelerators already check whether a flow is compressible before adding data compression, for example.

"All of us would argue that we have adaptive products," confirmed Eric Wolford, Riverbed's SVP of marketing. He pointed out that Orbital is late to market with CIFS acceleration and doesn't yet have disk-based acceleration for file access, as Riverbed, Tacit and others do, nor does it have a broad spread of application-specific acceleration modules.

Those application modules are vital, added Liad Ofek, Expand's technical services VP. "We've been able for a long time to identify traffic and treat it accordingly, and we keep adding more and more application acceleration - the last was WAFS/CIFS," he said. "You need support for a variety of application protocols, so we offer extensive application support and a generic mechanism to adapt."

However, Pierce argued that with the right set of acceleration techniques and the ability to auto-optimise, the network can self-adapt to suit a new application, with no need for manual intervention or specific configuration.

"There's four or five classes of application, and associated with that is maybe 650 protocols - no-one has built all those into a box," he said. "The battle has been how many features can you cram in. A new approach is needed - you want a balanced mix, a painless default."

Metzler warned though that automating this mix is also a complex task, with risks of its own. And he predicted that Orbital's smaller rivals will catch up in a matter of months, although he said that the bigger WAN optimisation vendors - Cisco, Juniper, F5 - are still too busy working to pull together all their acquisitions and get them onto the same platforms.

The Orbital 6000 is available in two forms, said Pierce - the Orbital 6800 for data centres, at around £12,000, and the branch office Orbital 6500 at £2,900.

Read more of our interview with Dick Pierce here.