More promising is the idea of a cloud computing environment for the branch office, where a small device will offer wired and wireless connectivity to the central data center and handle the optimization of traffic across the WAN, and will be used for file sharing, as a print server and as a cache device. The WAN role is important because most services will be found on the WAN in either an internal or public cloud environment, he said.
However, the technology for such branch office IT environments currently is being beta tested and probably won't become available to companies until 2010, Silva said.
"The future of the branch lies in a single box running multiple functions for branch connectivity," Silva wrote. "Existing hardware such as the WAN optimization/application delivery appliance shows promise as a site for centralization of branch infrastructure. We will eventually get to a single box in the branch, and a new model of a cloud-based branch office box [will emerge] in 2010."
In the meantime, there are a host of solutions that offer varying degrees of capabilities to enterprises looking to begin branch office consolidation now, he said. Those include such offerings as application delivery solutions, call management, local services infrastructures, remote management devices, secure remote gateways and routers, WLAN control planes, and unified threat management products.
One area that is ripe for consolidation now is local servers. Many branch offices have commodity servers that are used for such tasks as addressing, identity management, and file and print services, Silva said. The workloads on these servers already can be handled by virtual machines, and the systems are driving up companies' power, cooling and space costs.
"Budget constrictions for capital outlay on infrastructure elements such as server hardware, the operational benefit of removing these devices from the branch and the added benefit of redeploying these servers where they can be more fully utilized are several reasons for consolidation," he said. "As they enter the market, cloud offerings will focus first on providing the tools of these servers with a much more energy-efficient, unmanaged device."