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WAN optimization market shakeup predicted

WAN optimization is shaping up to be one of the hottest areas of the network equipment market, prompting industry experts to predict high-profile acquisitions and vendor shakeups in the near future.

According to IDC, the overall network equipment market will grow 8.7% this year to reach $39.4 billion. Of this growth, the WAN application delivery sector will be one of the strongest drivers, according to IDC, and will reach $1.3 billion by the end of the year.

PREDICTIONS: Mobility, video and cloud will drive network revenues up 8.7% in 2012

According to Cindy Borovick, IDC program vice president for Enterprise Data Center Networks, this is because the "piecemeal" approach to WAN optimization has reached a tipping point for many companies.

For the past few years, businesses have optimized applications for the WAN on an as-needed basis, Borovick says.

"It's our belief that a significant number of customers have really taken an ad hoc approach to the WAN, almost, if you will, accidental architectures -- choosing what applications need to be supported by the WAN and supporting them individually, rather than optimizing the entire infrastructure for the WAN," she says.

Other researchers have seen similar network management practices during the past few years. Daniel Kennedy, research director for information security at TheInfoPro, likened the trend to a carpenter using a hammer to knock in individual nails. By now, network managers have had to address so many of these issues that WAN optimization is starting to make sense as a networkwide option.

"Let's say an application's performance over a geographic expanse is less than ideal between a remote office and the primary data center," Kennedy says. "The network manager, looking to solve that problem, asks around and evaluates a WAN optimization product to solve this point issue. When that project is successful, that network manager now has a hammer he's comfortable with, and starts seeking out nails, leading to more implementations and greater networkwide rollouts."

In fact, TheInfoPro's latest survey was the first in the last three in which more respondents cited "networkwide implementations" of WAN optimization tools, at 65%, than those who planned to use WAN optimization as a point solution, at 35%. Reasons cited for deploying WAN optimization and network intelligence tools range from disaster recovery and preparing for growing bandwidth needs to centralizing data centers and content and application delivery.

These trends have combined to make WAN optimization the standard for enterprise network management, rather than the exception, according to Kennedy.

"At 56% of large North American enterprises already reporting having a [WAN optimization] solution in place, I would already consider it mainstream," Kennedy says.

Both researchers believe the market for WAN optimization will grow so quickly that the industry could see a vendor 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."

Specifically, IDC researchers pointed to Riverbed as an acquisition target. Although Kennedy believes Riverbed, which leads the WAN optimization hardware and software market, may be too large of a target for any company to overtake, he acknowledged that the market will be unpredictable as revenues continue to rise and the cloud encompasses an increasing amount of IT infrastructure.

"Not much would surprise me anymore, however with a $4 billion market cap, Riverbed is no easy acquisition," Kennedy says. "WAN optimization is both established, and yet, with the advent of cloud [and] virtualization strategies taking hold, is also an area of opportunity for a large player with a portfolio of IT offerings to drive a stake."

IDC researchers also pointed to F5 Networks and Akamai as potential acquisition targets in the WAN optimization and network intelligence space, while Kennedy also acknowledged that "some of the small private pure players appearing on the market share chart could be attractive targets." In such a lucrative market and with such a broad array of vendors, acquisitions can be valuable for any number of reasons, Kennedy says, and could help some climb the ranks and challenge market leaders.

"An acquiring firm can do [well] with a number of strategies that might boil down to: Do they want to acquire technology and make a run at the WAN op market, or do they want to acquire a product and established market share?" Kennedy says. "If acquiring technology, there are cheaper alternatives to Riverbed that can establish the technical competency and product within a company that can then be driven forward with their increased access to enterprise IT managers."

Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is [email protected]

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