An Introductory Guide to WAN Optimization Tools for Small & Medium Businesses

Illustration of interconnected nodes with the text "WAN optimization"
Why should you optimize your WAN?

In the past few years (even pre-COVID), many small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been under pressure to implement WAN optimization methods. Why is this the case? Well primarily, I can mention the need to support satellite offices and B2B transactions. I also can cite the increased usage of mobile and cloud applications. Businesses need to support all that while keeping costs down

The pandemic has boosted the need for WAN optimization. In fact, SMBs now also have to grapple with the network demands of remote or hybrid work initiatives

In this article, I’ll share with you some WAN optimization tools to ease that burden. Before we get to that, let’s first address the elephant in the room — what is WAN optimization?

What Is WAN Optimization?

As you already know, a wide area network (WAN) is a collection of smaller networks separated by vast geographical distances. WAN optimization is a collection of methods, techniques, and solutions to improve the performance of your WAN

The performance of your WAN usually degrades due to poor network conditions. Generally, these conditions are bandwidth limitations, latency, packet loss, and jitter. Today, businesses rely on network and cloud-based processes. As a result, WAN optimization has become a critical need. 

Contrary to the notion that WAN optimization is going extinct, the global WAN optimization market size will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.3%. It’ll reach USD 4.785 billion by 2027

Let’s take a look at four of the most common WAN optimization techniques. Note that most WAN optimization tools already implement these techniques. You won’t need to implement them individually.

1. Deduplication

Deduplication includes eliminating repetitive data transfers. This technique intercepts data and analyzes it with deduplication algorithms. Then, duplicate data gets removed, and the rest can carry on. Deduplication essentially enables you to reduce the amount of data traversing your WAN. In turn, this frees up bandwidth for other data to pass through.

2. Caching

This technique stores frequently used data in a more accessible location. For instance, it may use a host or proxy as storage. Whenever you need this data, it won’t have to come all the way from its origin. Like deduplication, caching reduces the amount of data traversing your WAN. In addition, it shortens the distance cached data has to travel

3. Compression

This utilizes storage compression techniques similar to .zip, .rar, and others. The end goal is to reduce the size of data. This way, you can free up bandwidth on your WAN.

4. Traffic Shaping

This technique enables admins to specify which applications are priorities in the WAN. For example, you can prioritize VoIP and access to business-critical web apps. This means backups won’t get the same priority during these times. This doesn’t free up bandwidth. However, traffic shaping ensures you’re prioritizing the most important processes. 

We know that WAN optimization speeds up data transmissions across a WAN. But how does that help small and medium-sized businesses? Let’s talk about that.

What You Gain from WAN Optimization

Image of a smiling woman sitting on a white chair, using a laptop, and surrounded by packages.
Speed up your small businesses with WAN optimization.

Indeed, the cost of bandwidth has gone down. However, the usage of mobile apps, cloud-based applications (e.g., Microsoft 365, Salesforce, etc.), VoIP, and internet-based multimedia is increasing. As a result, SMBs often face bandwidth limitations

That’s not all. As I mentioned earlier, WANs are susceptible to issues that are inherent in WAN infrastructure and TCP/IP. That includes latency and packet loss. SMBs can address many of these issues by implementing WAN optimization

Here are some benefits SMBs stand to gain by adopting WAN optimization solutions. 

Cost Savings 

You can certainly improve WAN performance by increasing bandwidth. However, you can’t just keep doing it. Every incremental increase amounts to additional costs. WAN optimization can minimize the need to purchase additional bandwidth. But that’s just one cost benefit. WAN optimization also enables SMBs to pursue cloud initiatives (e.g., SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS). In fact, these are very dependent on network performance. But they also significantly reduce upfront costs for IT infrastructure.  

Increased Productivity

Many business processes and practices (e.g., remote working) are now competing for bandwidth. As a result, a small business WAN can reach maximum capacity in no time. When that happens, users may encounter connection problems. This will disrupt your online meetings and slow down your processes. WAN optimization can prevent these issues. It also can provide an environment that enables maximum productivity.

Improved User Experience

Poor network conditions can be detrimental to the user experience, whether for employees or customers. In a suboptimal WAN, web pages are slow to load and application response is sluggish. Additionally, form submissions keep timing out and videos are low-res. WAN optimization can minimize these inconveniences. This also helps you maintain a healthy user experience.

Greater Control over Bandwidth Usage

Sometimes, your users conduct unnecessary activities over your WAN. For instance, they may use social media and play video games at work. This all eats up your bandwidth. 

Some WAN optimization solutions enable you to manage your bandwidth more efficiently. For example, you can prioritize certain processes. You also can prevent rogue applications from using bandwidth. When you have more control over your bandwidth usage, you can complete all your tasks on time. 

Better Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Practices

The most effective business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) initiatives usually involve offsite processes. Often, you backup to or resume services from a geographically separate BCDR site. However, these processes also can strain your small business’s WAN. WAN optimization can enable you to pursue these initiatives without affecting your other network-dependent business processes. 

Now that you know the benefits of WAN optimization, let’s take a closer look at some solutions that can help streamline your small business WAN

Top 5 WAN Optimization Tools for SMBs

Achieving max speed using WAN optimization.

Over the years, the WAN optimization industry has greatly evolved. For instance, the industry has seen several mergers and acquisitions. Additionally, new technologies have emerged, like SD-WAN and SASE. These technologies already integrate WAN optimization as a feature. In fact, some of the solutions I’ll outline below offer WAN optimization as part of a broader product or service. Let’s call these integrated WAN optimization solutions.

However, you can also get non-integrated solutions. We’ll call these standalone WAN optimization solutions. These typically involve WAN optimization appliances. You’ll deploy these at endpoints, e.g., at branch offices and a data center. When two WAN optimization appliances interact, their connection is optimized through various WAN optimization techniques, including some of those mentioned earlier. 

So without further ado, let’s see the top five WAN optimization solutions today:

1. Exinda 

Exinda Network Orchestrator is a standalone solution. It comes with a range of physical and virtual WAN optimization appliances. That means you can choose an appliance model most suited for your data center size and network requirements. Exinda also lets you monitor your network’s health and customize your bandwidth consumption. Finally, you can discover potential issues before they affect your performance. 

The Exinda Network Orchestrator lets you see your network from the user’s perspective. For example, it can analyze VoIP calls. Then, it’ll show you graphs illustrating how many calls are good, bad, or tolerable. This is huge because users don’t perceive things in 1’s and 0’s. As a result, you can focus your efforts to improve the most important parts of your network

2. Cato SASE Cloud

Cato SASE Cloud is actually a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) platform. WAN optimization is just one of Cato SASE Cloud’s many network-related features. Essentially, this platform combines network services with security services. So Cato doesn’t rely on WAN optimization appliances. Instead, it performs optimization and other processes in its cloud environment. 

You need Cato sockets to connect your branch offices or data center to the Cato cloud. These sockets are virtual or physical appliances. On the other hand, mobile users can connect through the Cato Client app. Cato Sockets and Cato Clients can connect to Cato’s 65 globally-distributed points of presence (PoPs). Additionally, Cato SASE Cloud is delivered as a service. That means you pay on a subscription basis and Cato maintains the underlying platform

3. Riverbed Steelhead

Riverbed Steelhead is another standalone WAN optimization solution. Steelhead WAN optimization appliances, a.k.a. Steelheads, come in two forms. First, you have Steelhead CX. This is a hardware appliance that you deploy on branch offices and data centers. Second, you can use Steelhead CX for Virtual. This is a virtual solution that you deploy on hypervisors. Additionally, you can use the Riverbed Client Accelerator (formerly Steelhead Mobile). This is a small piece of software that you install on laptops and desktops. It optimizes WAN connections between your remote workers and your other Steelheads. 

Steelhead combines common WAN optimization techniques with its proprietary algorithms. You also can configure these Steelheads using a centralized administrative interface known as SteelCentral Controller for Steelhead. Additionally, you can use it for performance monitoring and management

4. Silver Peak / HPE Aruba

Silver Peak also offers a standalone WAN optimization product. It has two main WAN optimization appliances. The first one is the Silver Peak NX (a physical appliance). The second one is Silver Peak VX (a virtual appliance). Silver Peak also has an SD-WAN solution for small businesses and large enterprises. It’s called Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN. However, HPE acquired Silver Peak, the solution was renamed Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN. Aruba Networks is a subsidiary of HPE. 

Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN already has an optional WAN optimization software pack named Aruba Boost. This pack can come into play when you have high latency. You also can manage the Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN through a centralized admin interface known as Aruba Orchestrator.

5. Aryaka

Aryaka is a direct competitor of Cato SASE Cloud. This tool also combines SD-WAN networking with security technologies. Aryaka has PoPs in all six habitable continents. Additionally, global Network Operations Centers (NOCs) and Security Operations Centers (SOCs) monitor the Aryaka network’s health 24/7

Aryaka customers can connect to Aryaka’s PoPs through the Aryaka Network Access Point (ANAP). Your subscription to Aryaka will include these ANAPs. ANAPs also support zero-touch deployment (ZTD). This means you can deploy them without any additional configuration!

Final Words

WAN optimization continues to be a much sought-after capability. It helps geographically-distributed SMBs overcome intolerably high latency and packet loss

Standalone solutions such as Exinda, Steelhead, and Silver Peak still exist. They also continue to provide great value. But some other solutions integrate WAN optimization with their offerings. This means you can get multiple network and security functionality in one product. 

The purpose of this article isn’t to help you choose the right WAN optimization tool. Rather, it should give you an overview of the choices on the market. I hope I succeeded in that regard. 

Do you have any questions on the terminology I used in this blog? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below! 


What is SD-WAN?

A software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is a WAN that mainly relies on software for management. SD-WANs route traffic moving between branch offices and the cloud through different connections. These include MPLS, LTE, 5G, etc. This is more efficient than the traditional practice of backhauling everything to a data center. 

What is ZTNA?

Zero Trust Network Access, or ZTNA, is a class of solutions and services. When a user, device, or application is trying to access data, ZTNA doesn’t give them trust. In line with this, ZTNA solutions perform stringent authentication and authorization processes. After that, they grant access. Most SASE offerings already have ZTNA functionality.

What is FWaaS?

A Firewall as a Service (FWaaS or FaaS) is a type of firewall delivered through the cloud. Many FWaaS solutions already include advanced firewall capabilities. That includes web/URL filtering, threat prevention, intrusion detection/intrusion prevention, and others. Most SASE offerings also include FWaaS. 

What is latency

Latency (or “delay”) is an undesirable network condition. Generally, the distance between two endpoints causes latency. The farther two communicating endpoints are in a network, the higher the latency. That’s why latency is common in WANs. High latency is bad, and low latency is good. 

What is jitter?

In the context of IP-based WANs, jitter is the variation in the latency of packets flowing from one endpoint to another. It’s basically a difference in latency between related packets. Jitter can adversely affect voice and video call quality. WAN optimization also can resolve some issues related to jitter. 


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