Why hardware solutions can never truly replace software for file transfer acceleration

by , September 12, 2012

In the world of file transfer acceleration, there are multiple approaches using both WAN Optimization appliances or pure software solutions like FileCatalyst. Hardware sometimes give the impression of perceived value; there is a tangibility that you just don't get with software. But can a hardware solution on its own really replace software for file transfer acceleration? The answer is no.

Hardware-based WAN Optimization

Hardware appliances are designed to accelerate and optimize ALL traffic that travels across your network. However the appliance still relies on software to perform all the logic for the actual data transfer; it's just that this code is wrapped up in a hardware package. A benefit is that it can indeed accelerate all TCP traffic (like FTP or SFTP file transfers, even HTTP) generated from your existing software. So it does do as the name implies, it optimizes your WAN.

In order to achieve acceleration, you must have the same WAN optimization appliance on both ends of your network. For example, if you wish to optimize a connection from your NY office to your LA office, you would need 2 of these appliances, one at each office.

Right away you may see the issues: What if you have not 2 but 10 offices? What if you need to accelerate file transfers from client locations to your offices? These WAN appliances are very expensive, and if you have more then a couple of locations involved, deployment may become cost prohibitive. Can you really ask each of your clients to purchase the hardware as well? Furthermore, can you expect them to install it on their network? Some WAN accelerators will provide a virtual appliance either via a network driver or disk image of their acceleration engine. The installation of the virtual appliance still remains complicated and requires configuration of ports on the client's firewall. Even when compared to a virtual WAN appliance, software based file transfer accelerators are much easier to configure and install.

Software-based File Transfer Acceleration

This is where a software-only accelerated file transfer solution truly excels. It takes a few minutes to install, and no infrastructure changes are needed. You can provide connections between several locations and they can all be up and running very quickly with no changes to their data center. Software overhead is small. Vendors typically charge a licensing fee, but that is usually a fraction of the cost for hardware, particularly when multiple hardware units are required. Hardware may quickly become obsolete, while software can be updated regularly with minimal effort. FileCatalyst licensing allows free client distribution, which means that you can provide the acceleration software and all the file transfer tools to your client for free in one small easy to install software package.

It seems clear that software solutions are less intrusive, and typically cost less. But let's get to the heart of it: what about performance for file transfers? Since WAN optimization appliances are trying to accelerate all traffic, they typically only do an "OK" job for each type of traffic, and are not exceptional at any specific type. By contrast, software solutions for accelerated file transfer will use UDP and proprietary algorithms made specifically for maximizing transfer speeds. You can expect the best possible file transfer speeds even when network impairments such as latency and packet loss become extreme.

It's All About the Tools

When it comes to a rich set of tools, hardware based WAN accelerators again come up short. What does it matter that you can transfer files fast, if you lack management, automation and tracking capabilities? Software based file transfer accelerators come with all the tools necessary to do the job right. For example, FileCatalyst comes with a scheduler for automated transfers, Java Applets for web based transfers, command line tools, an SDK, and even a mobile application for iOS and Android. For tracking and added security, there is a web-based management console in the form of FileCatalyst Central.

Conclusion

When you need to optimize all WAN traffic, including emails and web (low volume, low-demand applications to begin with), and only have a few locations, a WAN appliance may be the best choice. But in most cases, when the need is to accelerate file transfer for the delivery of large files, software solutions are superior in almost every way to hardware WAN optimizers. Software has an advantage in terms of cost, ease of deployment, ease of upgrade, and most importantly performance.

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