In the past few years, one of the game-changing technologies that has helped Dell claw its way back to competitiveness against HP in the server arena is automated deployment tools. These let admins remotely install software on hundreds of clients in minutes. But consider this: If applications like Microsoft Office could be run on remote servers and streamed remotely to thinner clients, even to tablets like Apple's iPad, without installing it to those clients in the first place, why bother with automated deployment at all?

The answer to that question has typically centered around performance. Imagine an application that stutters like Max Headroom running on your state-of-the-art quad-core PC. Yesterday, Cisco blew a hole in that argument, announcing a network optimization service specifically designed for Citrix XenDesktop, the system that powers the revolutionary Citrix Receiver that makes Office run on the iPad.

The delivery platform for Citrix' high-definition streamed services is called HDX. Although its principal use today is for streaming virtual desktops to a variety of client form factors, including tablets, it's a versatile enough technology to be used in the future for such things as live HD videoconferencing that shares the screen with both TV and PC services. Yesterday, Cisco announced its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS), whose sole functions are to accelerate HDX traffic and optimize bandwidth on wide-area networks that use Citrix XenDesktop for their virtual desktop infrastructure.

[Diagram courtesy Cisco]

On both sides of a wide-area network, WAAS forms a kind of tunnel. Although that tunnel manages all traffic, it specifically optimizes HDX traffic. Cisco promises that WAAS will expedite HDX traffic by up to 70% on average, while reducing bandwidth consumption by as much as 60%.

Of course, your next question should be, "Sixty percent over what?" Cisco cited a typical 10-user XenDesktop deployment scenario as requiring close to 1.1 Mbps of bandwidth. Its numbers say WAAS will cut that consumption down to about 550 Kbps. Businesses that use dedicated T1 lines for their WAN connections, and that could previously support only about 12 simultaneous XenApp users, can now potentially support 25.

With respect to Office, which is perhaps the most frequently virtualized application suite in all of XenApp, launch response times (according to Cisco's numbers) are reduced from 7.5 seconds down to 1.5 seconds.

What this means for branch offices such as banks, financial planners, and franchise auto sales is that they can now feel free to try accessing Excel and PowerPoint through their iPads. Consider how this can improve the customer experience: No longer do salespeople have to leave customers waiting in the lobby while they go look something up on their computer. No longer do they print out the charts or spreadsheet tables so customers can see them. Now an automobile salesperson can take the iPad with him, stay with the customer, walk the entire breadth of the lot, and configure deals through the tablet.

I seem to recall beginning this article with a mention of something called "automated deployment," but already that sounds so 2009.