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Startup takes WAN optimization to the clouds

You don't need no stinking box (most of the time)

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There's a new WAN optimization startup in town, taking on the likes of Riverbed, Citrix Systems, Blue Coat, and Cisco Systems with some freshly minted Series A funding and, you guessed it, a cloudy approach to delivering WAN optimization.

Aryaka Networks came out of stealth mode today and was founded by Ajit Gupta, who previously owned a content delivery network called Speedera that was ultimately sold to rival Akamai Technologies in March 2005 for $130m in stock. After selling off Speedera in the wake of lawsuits with Akamai, Gupta told El Reg that he was horrified at how complicated it was to set up a branch office in India to link back to his next startup, and then the lights went on and he found a new business to chase.

Just like Speedera and Akamai set up Web caching servers around the globe to speed up the content being pushed out to users (and paid for by the companies owning the sites, not by the users doing the surfing), Aryaka Networks is going to put its own WAN optimization servers around the global and accelerate the performance of branch offices as they link into headquarters, where the big iron sits and runs the applications.

This stands in stark contrast to the current way of doing WAN optimization, says Gupta. For years, if you wanted to get a secure, fast link so branch offices could run applications remotely and exchange data back and forth, you needed to buy private WAN links between the two points, which don't come cheap, and then drop in a WAN optimization appliance - also not cheap - on both ends of the wire. These appliances compress data streams, compensate for poor connections, do data deduplication, and myriad other tricks to make a remote office feel closer to the headquarters and function as if they are on a LAN instead of a WAN.

More recently, because WAN optimization appliance makers know branch offices and data centers do not want or need another box to support, all the major players have created a virtualized implementation of their WAN crunching code that allows it to run on a standard x64 server inside a guest partition on a hypervisor. Now, you do WAN optimization on the same server you have in the branch office.

Gupta says that while this is an improvement, using a physical or virtual WAN appliance means trying to figure out what applications you have, what optimization features you need, and what your capacity needs will be over the next three to five years. And then you have to wait for the telecommunications company to give you the WAN line, which costs a few grand per month and which can take three to six months to get installed.

"You end up over-provisioning and paying a lot more for WAN optimization, and you end up paying up front," Gupta explains. "Even with virtual appliances, it still becomes a box jungle."

And that high cost, says Gupta, is why there is only an installed base of somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000 WAN optimization appliances worldwide even though there are somewhere between 6 to 8 million branch offices in the world. Most of them could use some form of WAN optimization.

What Gupta and his team of 75 employees have cooked up with the Aryaka Network is essentially a distributed WAN optimization network that branch offices and headquarters offices can both dial into and leave all the compression, packet aggregation, TCP/IP optimization, and other bit-twiddling work to servers that Aryaka has installed in various points of presence in the key metropolitan areas around the globe. The key, says Gupta, is that it manages the link from the branch to its POP, from one POP to another, and from the second POP to the HQ office, optimizing all three links. With a WAN appliance approach, he says, you get the least-common-denominator, where optimization is only as good as the weakest part of the network.

By turning WAN optimization from a product into a service, the other benefit that users will get is pay-per-use pricing. You don't have to over-provision and over-pay just in case you need more bandwidth to add users or move a lot of data from HQ to branch and back. You just dial your capacity up and down as you need it. The performance of the Aryaka Networks service is comparable or better than the WAN optimization appliances on the market today, and in some cases it is a lot higher. Gupta tells customers that they should expect anywhere from 10X to 158X, the latter the highest performance improvement the company has seen among its 10 beta testers. (The theoretical limits are somewhere around 300X, he says).

At that 158X level, a 1.5 Mbit T1 line feels like an OC3 line. The service does not require anything special in terms of hardware, although for the poorest remote office links, Gupta says that a special box that is akin to a DSL modem can wring the best performance out of those poor links.

Aryaka Networks is running in ten POPs in major cities in the United States, Asia, and Europe today, and it will be in 25 POPs by the end of the year. The service costs from $500 to $1,000 per month, depending on the speed of the link and the features used on the service.

To build out the business, Gupta has secured $14m in Series A funding from Trinity Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Nexus Venture Partners, and Stanford University. ®

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