"Both categories are solving different aspects of the same problem: how to deliver highly available, consistent, low-latency transaction performance," Skorupa said. "WOCs go further and do it for remote file access, remote mail access and browser-based applications." Consolidation Crush"In Florida, when storms were crisscrossing the state, it raised awareness that I needed something high speed connected elsewhere that wouldnt be affected by a storm," said Harold Hamm, vice president of IT at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, in Jacksonville, Fla. "Today all our offices have servers in them, but in the next three to five years, Ill be centralizing all that data again. I can host it in a hot site thats got power redundancy, generators, multiple links to the Internetall those things so that data is in a very secure, recoverable environment," said Hamm, a Cisco Wide Area Application Services user. At the same time enterprises are moving to centralize servers and data centers, they are also dispersing users who access data farther and farther away from those centralized locations. A recent study conducted by Nemertes Research found that 87 percent of employees work away from the company headquarters. They could be in a branch office, home office, on the road or anywhere other than a main corporate campus, according to author Andreas Antonopoulos in New York. "The geographically concentrated company is becoming a thing of the past. Enterprises are consolidating data but dispersing employees, and the WAN is in the middle of a tug of war," Antonopoulos said. At the same time, some 55 percent of companies surveyed said they have had to consolidate data centers within the past 12 months, and another 57 percent planned to do so within the next 12 months, according to survey respondents from midsize and large enterprises. To date, most deployments have been tactical solutions to specific pain points for a handful of remote offices. "What weve seen to date has been a knee-jerk reaction," said analyst Robert Whiteley at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. "As an organization, I may have just rolled out a new version of SAP and its not working, or maybe I just consolidated branch offices and productivity is declining. Or Im trying to put business continuity in place and that requires regular backups in the branch office and thats not consistent. Any one of those could be my poster child." In those cases, the appliances have been easy to justify as a cost-avoidance mechanism for any location that would have required a WAN link upgrade to solve the problem. "To jump from a T-1 to a T-3 is a significant amount of recurring cost. When an office gets into the 10- or 12-user range, you can justify the investment," said Juniper WXC user Robert Bell, director of IT at architectural and engineering company Ghafari Associates, in Dearborn, Mich. Acceptance Builds So just where is the market today? Gartner put total user spending for both WOCs and ADCs at $1.45 billion last year, with ADCs leading the way at $875 million. This year, Gartner predicts overall end-user spending will grow 27.6 percent, to $1.85 billion. But Gartner predicts that next year will be the banner year, when end-user spending reaches $2.9 billiona 57 percent growth spurt. That makes it "poised to go mainstream," Skorupa said. In the meantime, evidence is building that the early adopters are moving to more widespread use of the technologies. "Now we are seeing deployments in the hundreds of sites. A significant amount of the business we closed in the last 120 days had initial orders north of $100,000," said Mike Banic, senior director of product marketing at Juniper, in Sunnyvale, Calif. Liz Claiborne, another Riverbed customer, expects to have more than 100 Steelhead appliances installed within the next two years. "For every new office that comes up, we plan to have those devices there," said Bob Czukkermann, supervisor of LAN administration at Liz Claiborne, in North Bergen, N.J. Now every Liz Claiborne office in North America and Asia has a Steelhead appliance, as does a data center in Europe. Company officials said it would be nice to be able to install the appliances in its 400-plus stores, but it is not yet cost effective to do that. "That is something wed like to do and something we are investigating," said Czukkermann, who added that Liz Claiborne also would like to see software-based client implementations. "This is how much of an effect weve seen," he said. Apparently, investors also see the application acceleration market going places, too. Last month, Riverbed, arguably the market leader, saw one of the more exciting tech IPOs (initial public offerings) since the market went bust. Citrix scales WAN optimization devices. Click here to read more. The company upped its initial asking price from a range of $7 to $8.50 up to $9.75 per share before the IPO. Investors bid up the price right off the bat to $14.30, giving the new public company a market capitalization of $627 million. What could help fuel growth is the emergence of what Gartner calls the soft WOC, which is either "a substantial enhancement of the client-based software in an application delivery controller or a pure software client-based instantiation of a WOC," said Skorupa. "It runs in a laptop, desktop or PDA and provides a subset of functions such as protocol spoofing, advanced compression, etc." The exuberance will bring in larger players with deep pockets to further the consolidation already under way. "On the supply side well get down to the top five vendors in the next six months," predicted Forresters Whiteley. As application acceleration technologies become a significant part of the network or server infrastructure, users will be challenged to learn how to manage larger-scale deployments. One of the bigger issues is learning how to perform capacity planning, said the anonymous Riverbed user. "When you have these accelerators in place and youre running at 100 percent utilization, it means the accelerators are doing a very good job. In the past at 100 percent utilization, TCP threw a fit and misbehaved and resulted in applications slowing down. So capacity planning becomes more difficult to do, and network modeling becomes more difficult to do," he said. But whatever challenges acceleration technology presents, few if any events could turn back the tide once end users see the performance gains it affords. "People are so accustomed to this speed now, you cant take it away," said Ghafaris Bell. "Once you put them in, you cant take it out." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.
Meanwhile, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are driving awareness that distributed data, even if it is centrally managed, is exposed to greater risk of loss and business disruption.