Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The history of opportunity for solution providers in the channel is very closely tied to bottlenecks. Almost any time there is an impedance mismatch between storage, servers and the network it creates a limited IT resource that needs to be optimized. Today the resource that is most limited is the wide area network (WAN).

While the concept of WAN optimization has been around for a while, like most technologies that start to gain market acceptance there winds up being multiple segments. Most solution providers today are familiar with WAN optimization offerings that accelerate specific types of traffic between the branch office or mobile computing devices and the data center.

But in recent months a higher end segment of the WAN optimization market has begun to take shape. That market focuses on optimizing traffic moving between data center across a WAN. The need for specialized WAN optimization products for this market has emerged because cloud service providers are trying to move massive amounts of data across the WAN. That traffic tends to have requirements that are much different than a few end users trying to access, for example, an SAP application located in a data center back at the home office.

One of the newer players in this space is Infineta Systems, which developed a WAN optimization platform based on a proprietary floating-point gate array (FPGA) architecture that is specifically designed to optimize massive volumes of data flowing being data centers. This so-called “east-west” traffic, says Infineta CEO Raj Kanaya, requires a platform that can process data in parallel to provide the lowest latency possible.

Infineta’s most direct competitor is Silver Peak Systems, a provider of WAN optimization appliances for data centers that most recently recorded the 8,800th download of a virtual appliance edition of its platform. According to Silver Peak CEO Rick Tinsley, the virtual edition, which is available as a free trial, allows companies to easily deploy WAN optimization on an existing server without having to go to the trouble of acquiring an appliance. While the performance of that virtual appliance is limited to 1 Gigabit per second, Tinsley says it gives customers a way to address some of their WAN optimization issues via a software only approach that can be installed in less than 15 minutes.

The vast majority of the WAN optimization business is going to continue to be focused on the branch office and mobile computing applications. But as cloud computing continues to evolve, many solution providers may soon find themselves being asked to address both ends of the WAN optimization spectrum.

In the meantime, the two most dominant players in the branch office and mobile computing space are Riverbed Technology and Blue Coat Systems. But there are other lesser known players such as Circadence that are pursuing OEM strategies via software development kits that rely on channel partners to help them recruit application developers that increasingly need to bundle WAN optimization software directly in their application.

Rather than hope that the right IT infrastructure is in place, Circadence CTO Rob Shaughnessy says that with the advent of virtual appliances it makes a lot more sense for developers to take WAN optimization matters into their own hands, especially in a world where more of those applications are mobile offerings that are wholly dependent on WAN performance to achieve success.

There’s clearly a lot of opportunity these days when it comes to WAN optimization. What solution providers need to remember, however, is that not only are not all WAN optimization created equal; there are almost as many routes to market as there are variations of the technology to sell.