The WAN optimization vendor landscape has grown crowded in recent years. With the 7.0 release of its namesake product, Exinda hopes to distinguish itself from the crowd by pushing beyond WAN optimization into the newer field of WAN orchestration.
It's no secret that the complexity of the enterprise wide area network is growing along with its importance to business operations. Enterprises are becoming more distributed and workforces more mobile, while technology trends like BYOD and cloud computing continue to gain traction. All of these forces put increasing pressure on the networks—and the network administrators—responsible for enabling and optimizing the day-to-day connectivity of the organization. In Exinda's view, existing WAN optimization solutions, like those offered by competitors Riverbed and Silver Peak, are no longer enough.
Historically, WAN optimization has focused primarily on speeding up network performance by reducing the amount of data sent over the wire through techniques like web caching, bandwidth management, and CIFS, MAPI, and HTTP acceleration. That market, however, is in decline, perhaps partly due to a shift in priorities. For many of Exinda's customers, simply cutting overall WAN and bandwidth spend is now secondary to the goal of ensuring network resources for business-critical applications. Exinda developed its vision of WAN orchestration in response to that need.
WAN orchestration, in Exinda's view, is the intelligent, end-to-end management and coordination of users, applications, devices, and activities across the WAN, an endeavor in service of the ultimate goal of better user experience. Among the key capabilities of Exinda's WAN orchestration solution are real-time WAN intelligence through Active Directory-integrated user tracking and profiling, Layer 7 application traffic inspection and analysis, and tools to benchmark and compare application performance. A recommendation engine and solution center provide prescriptions for application protection, performance optimization, and problem resolution. And Exinda 7.0 also features a variety of turnkey reports and workflows to help support IT projects that touch the WAN.
This last feature may prove important. Ultimately, the network exists to support business operations, and part of the network administrator's role is to enable larger IT initiatives like mobility, BYOD, and Big Data. Exinda 7.0 aims to assist in this by providing insight into factors such as cost, usage, and compliance issues. Exinda includes a frequently updated live solution catalog and best practices gleaned from the vendor's customers.
Taken together, Exinda 7.0 provides an impressive array of features in a single box. It contains the core data compression, application acceleration, and caching capabilities of a traditional WAN optimization solution with traffic management and application monitoring tools like SLA management. Enterprises can, of course, put a similar solution together with other vendor products, but that may not be ideal.
"Look at Riverbed, which is the largest player in this market. To do the same features in Riverbed, you'll need three different boxes, Cascade, Steelhead, and [non-Riverbed product] Barracuda, and you'll need to do those in concert," Ryan Tollofson, Exinda's director of marketing, told me. After a quarter of growth, Riverbed has announced plans to rebrand its product portfolio, but Tollofson's point stands.
"If you're in a very large enterprise space, that might be the right deployment, but for the bulk of organizations, that's overkill," Tollofson said. In contrast, Exinda's solution keeps all the WAN orchestration functions in a single box and unified interface, designed for easy consumption.
Exinda claims that 25 percent of its sales are replacements for Riverbed, Cisco, and other competitors' WAN optimization appliances. That is, Tollofson said, due primarily to Exinda's ease of use but also because of Exinda's affordability in comparison to the competition.
"We're cheaper than our competition, so that certainly helps," he said.
Despite all the functionality of Exinda 7.0, however, one ingredient is missing. As the WAN and the demands on it grow, and as visibility and analytics tools become more comprehensive and more granular, network administrators risk information overload. A single administrator or even a network team can only accomplish so much manual configuration before hitting a limit, which is why automation is becoming increasingly critical to IT administration. It might be expected that a platform with ambitions of total WAN orchestration will offer robust automation tools. Exinda 7.0 isn't quite there—yet.
"We do have a lot of automation built in for 7.0, but there's a lot more required that's in our roadmap. I'd like to tell you that everything is push button automated, but it isn't yet," Tollofson said. Instead, the solution center suggests solutions for performance, governance, and project issues, and a wizard walks administrators through the policy management engine.
This current lack of automation is, in fact, by design, Tollofson explained. The existing customers from whose feedback Exinda developed 7.0 aren't ready for single-touch configuration; Exinda needs to build more trust with them before they will be willing to hand over that much control.
"We kind of developed a middle ground, but the ultimate goal is to provide automation," said Tollofson.
Exinda is primarily known for its deployments in the K-12 education sector, but the vendor also targets midlevel enterprise and has some large customers, among them Kraft, Marriott, AT&T, and Vodaphone. Exinda 7.0 was launched late last month and is deployable via physical or virtual appliances at the network edge and in a cloud deployment for mobile devices.
Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.