Ensuring you have a good methodology for promoting WAN Optimization changes to your production network is an absolute must to move from tactical to strategic use of the technology. While the details may vary depending on the vendor solution that is deployed, having a clearly defined process is critical.
The majority of our customers deploy their WAN Optimization solutions inline vs. logical inline or with hardcoded path statements (often referred to as out-of-path deployments). As such the potential for unplanned network outages is always a risk when promoting net new Optimization configurations to your appliances.
I recommend setting up a lab that emulates production as closely as possible. With the cost of smaller appliances designed for branch optimization now cheaper than ever it does not have to cost a fortune to build a lab that represents your production environment. In addition much of the network hardware that had to be physical can be virtualized to reduce the cost and size of your lab.
WAN Optimization technology has the potential to benefit many transport protocols, applications, data steams and even server consolidation projects within an organization. There is a tendency however to isolate this technology within the networking team. While this makes sense from an operations perspective it does nothing to empower other parts of the IT team to take advantage of the capabilities of WAN Optimization. For example, Riverbed supports encrypted MAPI, without the awareness of the Exchange team however it is unlikely to be an overall factor in the design of the email system.
Part of the process should use the lab to engage your Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) to demonstrate the benefit of WAN Optimization as it relates to their technology (File Services, Storage, Messaging, Web Services, etc.). In addition you can reduce the overall risks in promoting changes to production by having them validate the tests that you are using to prove the solution. As with any technology you wish to promote within your organization, the more people who recognize the benefits, the more likely that it will factor into new designs, consolidations or enhancements to existing technology.
As we move more and more to providing service driven architecture, it is a great idea to capitalizes on technology that improves the overall end user experience like WAN Optimization. It is even more important to ensure that your IT team is familiar with the technology so it can benefit the entire organization.