InfoTech Research Group recently completed a survey where it evaluated the value provided by WAN optimization vendors, which provides insights in what to do - and not to do - when identifying the value of networking equipment.
As a veteran of the speed-and-feed wars of networking gear, I was happy to see that InfoTech put its finger on the essential issue in picking a piece of networking equipment - value. It's not the price that matters or even who has the best feature set, but the relationship between the two that matters most.
We in the WAN optimizer industry, for example, can get caught up (and you with us) into the thinking that product value can come from performance increase, but, this can be misleading. Changes from 50% to 95% data reduction may have a significant impact on bandwidth costs, but may not improve data throughput. File transfer improvements by 95% can reduce the time to download an average file from 120 minutes to 6 minutes -quite real value to your users. But if file transfer times are only reduced from 10 seconds to 9, a 95% improvement is negligible.
Similarly, equipment price is often mentioned in assessing value. However, this too can be misleading. Low price tags may initially yield attractive value, but such value assessments can be short sighted. Insufficient scalability in the WAN optimizer's design can lead to costly upgrades after deployment. And then there's the question of what price is used in the value assessment. Average prices across entire product portfolios from WAN optimization vendors, such as Riverbed and Silver Peak Systems, are often used in value assessments, but with vendors delivering a diverse range of products, comparing average portfolio prices can be deceiving.
So where then do you look for value? InfoTech covers a number of areas worthwhile considering, two that might not be so apparent:
Number of applications: A good part of the genius of computer networking has been to amortize the cost of networking equipment across the various applications running over the network. That's why it's so much more affordable to deploy video conferencing system, phone system, video surveillance network, and our applications across a single network than individual ones . The same is true of WAN optimizers. The cost of WAN optimization per application is proportionally higher when WAN optimizers accelerate fewer applications. To gain the maximal return from their WAN optimization investment, IT should look at improving the performance of as many TCP, UDP, and proprietary applications as possible.
Lifecycle costs: Part of the challenge of any value discussion is identifying the price that will be used in the calculations over the lifecycle of the equipment. The purchase price is a small part of the total cost of the equipment. A more accurate measure will take into account other reoccurring factors, such as the maintenance price and upgrade costs. The latter is often driven by the number of concurrent sessions supported on a given platform. Sites often exceed concurrent session count before WAN bandwidth necessitating an upgrade in the appliance. Similarly new software features are often only available on newer appliances. The WAN optimizers with the lowest lifecycle costs will be highly scalable virtualized platforms who can work on commodity hardware, offer a high session count, and affordable service-and-support.
What factors do you consider in your value assessments?