Exclusive - Cisco WAAS 4.1 with Windows Server review

Cisco’s latest version of WAAS offers a streamlined deployment, a wealth of new features and unique Windows Server virtualisation capabilities.

Price
£43,029

here's a lot to play for in the WAN optimisation market as businesses look for ways of reducing costs and yet improving services to their remote and branch offices. In this exclusive review we take a closer look at Cisco's latest WAAS (Wide Area Application Services) 4.1, which delivers a range of new and welcome features which includes its Windows Server on WAAS (WoW) program.

In a joint venture with Microsoft, Cisco has now added virtual blade (VB) capabilities to its WAE (Wide Area Engine) appliances and can supply them with Windows Server 2008 Core preinstalled. The key focus of WoW is to allow businesses to deploy local Windows services to their branches so they can get rid of their physical servers and reduce support and maintenance costs. Cisco has focused on deploying key services to the branch - namely DNS, DHCP, Active Directory and print services, and in this configuration it provides full OS support.

Other new features include a streamlined deployment plus application specific acceleration for MAPI, NFS, Windows print services and HTTP apps including SharePoint and Oracle. It's about time SSL acceleration was on the list and we were advised that this is currently in beta and will be available early next year.

There's more as Cisco tackles delivery of live video and video on demand (VoD) to branches. This optional feature sends one live video stream over the WAN link to the remote site where the WAE splits it amongst all clients. For VoD applications, WAAS offers a prepositioning feature where video files can be preloaded into a CIFS file cache in the edge appliance allowing it to be served up locally.

For testing we used three systems a WAE-512 functioning as the Central Manager (CM), a WAE-612 acting as our core appliance and a WAE-674 as our edge appliance. The price we've listed includes all these appliances along with licenses for two VBs both with WS2008 Core preinstalled for unlimited users and the Live Video feature as well. We placed all three appliances on a dedicated management network and for WAN optimisation we used two separate networks of Windows servers and clients and configured the core and edge WAEs to run in the standard transparent mode between them using their inline network cards.

Deployment is an area Cisco has been working on and we had no problems with installation. The CM system provides centralised management for all WAE appliances and uses device groups to simplify policy deployment. All new appliances can be set to automatically join a baseline group, which provides a common set of optimisation and system parameters. You provide the WAE appliances with the IP address of the CM and once they communicate with it they download the default group policy.

From here on you can create different groups each with their own policies and decide which devices should be members. At the heart of WAAS is its policy definitions that determine how different types of traffic are handled and Cisco provides over 150 as standard. These are added to your policies and are carried out from the top down in strict priority.

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