Packeteer iShared yields mixed WAN optimization results
Appliances delivers a hefty CIFS boost but stumbles on other data
iShared’s capability to optimize SMB (Server Message Block)-signed traffic is an important feature. SMB signing places a digital signature into each SMB to secure network communications between Windows clients and servers. It is turned on by default on Windows 2003 domain controllers. Many WAN accelerators, such as those from Riverbed and Cisco, cannot optimize SMB-signed traffic. Rather, the traffic passes sans optimization, or network admins must disable the feature on their servers. Given that most file shares do not reside on the domain controller, this feature may not be of much use in many networks. But it has been rumored that SMB signing will be enabled in Microsoft’s next-gen server Longhorn in all situations, making this feature more important in the future.
iShared’s deep collaboration with Windows proves to cut both ways. It requires additional steps to integrate the appliance with the file servers and other resources on the network. It isn’t nearly as transparent to the resources it is optimizing and requires pretty detailed knowledge of the network in order to bring it online. Setup time was close to double the time required for other appliances.
Packeteer includes a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook MAPI acceleration. The plug-in installs into Outlook and connects to an Exchange service account on the appliance that then makes an optimized connection back to Exchange. The plug-in is only available for Outlook, so users of other e-mail clients can’t take advantage of any MAPI-specific optimization.
As with the CIFS integration, set up of the Exchange/MAPI acceleration required additional steps and even a unique admin-level user account on the Exchange server for the appliance to fetch attachments from users’ mailboxes. The process was much more involved than Riverbed’s MAPI acceleration engine.
The plug-in needs some work. The test script I use opens Outlook, retrieves a file attachment, saves it, then closes Outlook, timing the whole process start to finish. Packeteer scored poorly during this test because each time Outlook opened, there was a delay of about a minute and a half as the plug-in initialized. Granted, users will not run Outlook in this manner on a daily basis, and they will see an improvement in retrieving data from Exchange. Nevertheless, the startup delay hurt Packeteer’s performance compared with that of rival solutions. Also, the whole Exchange setup was far more involved than that of other WAN optimization solutions. Packeteer expects to eliminate the need for the plug-in in a release due in second quarter 2007.
Logging and reporting also could use some improvement. I was able to view graphs displaying both optimization and traffic statistics for as much as one month, but not longer. There is no historical or archival logging available, with the exception of saving the monthly chart data and manually importing it into an Excel spreadsheet or similar.
Packeteer’s iShared is a great fit for enterprises with a heavy investment in Windows servers and DFS. It is by far the best WAN optimization appliance when it comes to all types of CIFS traffic, but it needs some work to be on par with other solutions when it comes to other types of traffic. Reporting and logging are weak, and the overall setup was much more involved than most other appliances.