Microsoft is teaming up with thin client supplier Citrix to offer an alternative to Cisco products for optimising the performance of branch office applications over a wide area network.
The firms plan to knit together security, caching, data compression, remote print and file management, and security in a product designed to ease the deployment and management of branch office infrastructure.
Microsoft and Citrix plan to release the Citrix-branded Branch Office Box in the second half of 2007. The enterprise-class product will combine Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 R2 and ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server with Citrix's Wanscaler technology, which is designed to improve the speed of applications running across a wide area network.
Joe Skorupa, research vice-president at analyst firm Gartner, said the Microsoft/Citrix product represented the convergence of networking, storage and servers.
However, Skorupa cautioned potential users that since the Wanscaler product had yet to be deployed in a large site, questions remained as to how the new combined product would scale.
"The Microsoft/Citrix partnership will face some challenges, and the product delivery date is very aggressive. Wanscaler is unproven beyond very small deployments, and it lacks features such as bandwidth management, quality of service and voice over IP optimisations," he said.
In addition to its tie-up with Citrix, Microsoft is working with Nortel to build unified communications systems that can handle e-mail, instant messaging, telephony and multimedia conferencing over a single converged network.
Wan optimisation and converged networks are core product areas for networking market leader Cisco. Its network optimisation technologies offer features such as quality of service - a specification that gives priority to certain categories of network traffic such as voice over IP.
It also has a network optimisation division that sells the datacentre-based AVS (Application Velocity System) appliances, which provide Wan optimisiation.
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