WAN Acceleration Goes Virtual

Virtualization isn’t just about virtualizing servers — it’s also about virtualizing network services to consolidate networking gear, too.

Networking vendor Blue Coat (NASDAQ: BCSI) today announced its ProxySG Virtual Appliance, which provides virtual versions of its hardware-based WAN optimization appliances.

The idea is to deliver an experience similar to the one already offered by ProxySG hardware while offering the flexibility of virtualization.

“There is no performance difference between the ProxySG virtual appliances and the physical ones,” Chris Webber, product marketing manager at Blue Coat, told InternetNews.com. “We didn’t want customers to be artificially driven to one or the other based on performance. We want our customers to choose whether to run a virtual or a traditional appliance based only on their infrastructure and deployment needs.”

The ProxySG Virtual Appliance models are also sized for the same ranges of users as Blue Coat’s hardware. In total, there are four different virtual appliance models (VA-5, VA-10, VA-15 and VA-20,) which range in concurrent user support from five to 300 users.

Moving from physical hardware into the virtual space for network service delivery represents a new way for Blue Coat to strengthen its foothold in what’s becoming a growing trend in networking. The market for WAN optimization is growing from a projected $1.19 billion this year to $1.53 billion by 2014, according to Infonetics.

Getting the right performance characteristics for the ProxySG Virtual Appliance — which operates on servers running VMware’s virtualization technologies — was one of the areas where Webber noted that Blue Coat took its time to make sure it got it right.

“When you’re talking about WAN optimization, speeding up application delivery, the last thing you want to do is slow that down,” Webber said. “One of the benefits of being a traditional appliance is you’re right there on the hardware and there is no middleman.”

With the new virtual appliances, Webber doesn’t see Blue Coat cannibalizing its existing hardware appliance business, since its virtual and physical appliance are priced nearly the same for similar user counts. In his view, the traditional appliance market, which enables an enterprise to plug a WAN optimization box into the network, is still an approach that will be attractive to many.

With the virtual ProxySG, Blue Coat has currently tested and validated its deployment for running on Dell PowerEdge servers. Webber said that Blue Coat is also in the process of working with other major server vendors, including IBM and HP.

HP has its own effort for running third-party networking services on its gear called

HP ProCurve One technology. Blue Coat rival Riverbed is among those that have partnered with HP, and the company recently updated its Cascade application monitoring solution for improved visibility into network traffic.

Webber was unable comment on whether Blue Coat is working with HP specifically on enabling the virtual ProxySG for the ProCurve One platform.

In addition to delivering WAN acceleration and optimization with ProxySG, Blue Coat also offers WAN application visibility and monitoring capabilities by way of its Packeteer technology. Webber noted that, for now, Blue Coat is not speaking publicly about any plans for virtualizing WAN visibility technologies, but hinted that it might in the future.

“This is the first step on the path of giving flexible delivery options,” Webber said.

He added that considering how well virtualization has taken off in the market and the benefits it provides, Blue Coat would be smart to look into virtualization WAN visibility as well.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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