As I was reading the Internet this morning I happened across an article with "Tips for Optimizing Your WAN (Wide Area Network)" and I thought, "Huh. That's pretty ... generic."  

While the article uses SAP applications as an example, it speaks in terms of generalities. Selective ACKs, quality of service, data reduction techniques, and HTTP compression.

That's when I said, "Whoop de doo."

Really, these techniques have nothing to do with SAP and applications and everything to do with packets. Every WAN and acceleration solution can do this stuff. I'm not really picking on the author of this article, per se. It's a common practice to "name drop" applications when you're describing WAN optimization and acceleration because, well, it exists to deliver applications. Without applications, a WAN is about as useful as HD cable service without a television. So why do we talk so much about packets and bandwidth instead of the important stuff, the applications?

dilbert_demons_800x600Probably because most solutions don't really do anything specifically for any application, they're just messing with packets. They don't have any advice on how to optimize for X, or Y. They essentially treat all applications the same. In order to truly optimize an application you have to get into it. You have to deploy it and test it and tweak it and play with it. You can't just look at packets flying by, you have to understand how people use the application and figure out what's slowest and how you can fix it. You have to understand the application, not just understand how to spell it.

It's pretty easy to spot a solution that is focused on packets and not on applications. Here's three clues the solution you're considering is more interested in packets than in applications:

Clue #1: The phrase "packet inspection" is used

     Inspecting a single packet, no matter how deeply you look, doesn't really tell you much about the application aside from providing network-level information like its port and IP address. It might tell you that the application uses JSON, XML, or plain old text if you know what to look for. Most solutions don't.

Clue #2: Applications are mentioned as footnotes instead of subtext

     If applications are used only to illustrate a concept rather than being central to the discussion then the solution is probably focused on generic network-based optimizations and techniques. Applications are irrelevant to the solution; it does not (and probably is not capable of) provide any application-specific features.

Clue #3: The specific benefits to an application cannot be articulated

    If you ask, "What can you do for Microsoft SharePoint" and the answer comes back as vague generalities built on data reduction and caching you might want to keep looking. The answer should be specific, such as "SharePoint does X or Y and to reduce the impact of that on performance we do Z."


When you're trying to figure out how to squeeze more performance out of an application, especially when it's delivered via the WAN or the public Internet, you're probably going to start looking at WAN and application acceleration solutions. When you do, you need to consider whether you're getting an application focused solution or a network focused solution.

Cause one is going to speed up the network, and the other one is going to speed up your application. Which one do you really want?


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