Daily Archives: April 6, 2012

Report from Network Field Day 3: Infineta’s “Big Traffic” WAN Optimization

Last week, I had the privilege of serving as a delegate a Network Field Day 3 (NFD3), part of Tech Field Day.  It actually spanned two days, last Thursday and Friday, and it truly was a memorable and rewarding experience.

I learned a great deal from the vendor presentations (from SolarWinds, NEC, Arista, Infineta on Thursday; from Cisco and Spirent on Friday), and I learned just as much from discussions with my co-delegates, whom I invite you to get to know on Twitter and on their blogs.

The other delegates were great people, with sharp minds and exceptional technical aptitude. They were funny, too. As I said above, I was honored and privileged to spend time in their company.

Targeting “Big Traffic” 

In this post, I will cover our visit with Infineta Systems. Other posts, either directly about NFD3 or indirectly about the information I gleaned from the NFD3 presentations, will follow at later dates as circumstances and time permit.

Infineta contends that WAN optimization comprises two distinct markets: WAN optimization for branch traffic, and WAN optimization for what Infineta terms “big traffic.” Each has different characteristics.  WAN optimization for branch traffic is typified by relatively low bandwidth and going over relatively long distances, whereas WAN optimization for “big traffic” is marked by high bandwidth and traversal of various distances. Given their characteristics, Infineta asserts, the two types of WAN optimization require different system architectures.

Moreover, the two distinct types of WAN optimization also feature different categories of application traffic. WAN optimization for branch traffic is characterized by user-to-machine traffic, which involves a human directly interacting with a device and an application. Conversely, WAN optimization for big traffic, usually data-center to data-center in orientation, features machine-to-machine traffic.

Because different types of buyers involved, the sales processes for the two types of WAN optimization are different, too.

Applications and Use Cases

Infineta has chosen to go big-game hunting in the WAN-optimization market. It’s chasing Big Traffic with its Data Mobility Switch (DMS), equipped with 10-Gbps of processing capacity and a reputed ROI payback of less than a year.

Deployment of DMS is best suited for application environments that are bandwidth intensive, latency sensitive, and protocol inefficient. Applications that map to those characteristics include high-speed replication, large-scale data backup and archiving, huge file transfers, and the scale out of growing application traffic.  That means deployment typically occurs at between two or more data centers that can be hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, employing OC-3 to OC-192 WAN connections.

In Infineta’s presentation to us, the company featured use cases that covered virtual machine disk (VMDK) and database protection as well as high-speed data replication. In each instance, Infineta claimed compelling results in overall performance improvement, throughput, and WAN-traffic reduction.

Dedupe “Crown Jewels”

So, you might be wondering, how does Infineta attain those results? During a demonstration of DMS in action, Infineta tools us through the technology in considerable detail. Infineta says says its deduplication technologies are its “crown jewels,” and it has filed and received a mathematically daunting patent to defend them.

At this point, I need to make brief detour to explain that Infineta’s DMS is  hardware-based product that uses field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), whereas Infineta’s primary competitors use software that runs on off-the-shelf PC systems. Infineta decided against a software-based approach — replete with large dictionaries and conventional deduplication algorithms — because it ascertained that the operational overhead and latency implicit in that approach inhibited the performance and scalability its customers required for their data-center applications.

To minimize latency, then, Infineta’s DMS was built with FPGA hardware designed around a multi-Gigabit switch fabric. The DMS is the souped-up vehicle that harnesses the power of the company’s approach to deduplication , which is intended to address traditional deduplication bottlenecks relating to disk I/O bandwidth, CPU, memory, and synchronization.

Infineta says its approach to deduplication is typified by an overriding focus on minimizing sequentiality and synchronization, buttressed and served by massive parallelism, computational simplicity, and fixed-size dictionary records.

Patent versus Patented Obtuseness

The company’s founder, Dr.K.V.S. (Ram) Ramarao, then explained Infineta’s deduplication patent. I wish I could convey it to you. I did everything in my limited power to grasp its intricacies and nuances — I’m sure everybody in the room could hear my rickety, wooden mental gears turning and smell the wood burning — but my brain blew a fuse and I lost the plot. Have no fear, though: Derick Winkworth, the notorious @cloudtoad on Twitter, likely will addressing Infineta’s deduplication patent in a forthcoming post at Packet Pushers. He brings a big brain and an even bigger beard to the subject, and he will succeed where I demonstrated only patented obtuseness.

Suffice it to say, Infineta says the techniques described in its patent result in the capacity to scale linearly in lockstep with additional computing resources, effectively obviating the aforementioned bottlenecks relating to disk I/O bandwidth, CPU, memory, and synchronization. (More information on Infineta’s Velocity Dedupe Engine is available on the company’s website.)

Although its crown jewels might reside in deduplication, Infineta also says DMS delivers the goods in TCP optimization, keeping the pipe full across all active connections.

Not coincidentally, Infineta claims to significantly get the measure of its competitors in areas such as throughput, latency, power, space, and “dollar-per-Mpbs” delivered. I’m sure those competitors will take issue with Infineta’s claims. As always, the ultimate arbiters are the customers that constitute the demand side of the marketplace.

Fast-Growing Market

Infineta definitely has customers — NaviSite, now part of Time Warner, among them — and if the exuberance and passion of its product managers and technologists are reliable indicators, the company will more than hold its own competitively as it addresses a growing market for WAN optimization between data centers.

Disclosure: As a delegate, my travel and accommodations were covered by Gestalt IT, which is remunerated by vendors for presentation slots at Network Field Day. Consequently, my travel costs (for airfare, for hotel accommodations, and for meals) were covered indirectly by the vendors, but no other recompense, except for the occasional tchotchke, was accepted by me from the vendors involved. I was not paid for my time, nor was I paid to write about the presentations I witnessed.