There is an interesting debate happening in the networking industry that centers around branch office equipment. ESG Research points out that branch office servers and applications are moving to the data center and this move is driving more investment in WAN optimization technologies from Blue Coat, Cisco, Citrix, and Riverbed. At the same time, cheap bandwidth and cloud services are changing the network infrastructure. Large organizations are moving away from back-hauling all traffic through the data center and setting up a real network perimeter at the branches themselves. While networking changes continue, there is also another trend happening. Lots of legacy networking and IT functionality (WAN optimization, firewall, IDS\/IPS, file servers, print servers, domain controllers, etc.) is now available as a virtual machine. A single device can now take on multiple functions.The debate centers on the "hybridization" of networking and server functionality at the branch office. Should branches deploy edge networking devices packaged with Intel processors for running VMs, or should they simply implement Intel blade servers from Dell, HP, and IBM at the network perimeter and then use VMs for all networking and server needs?The answer to this question could really impact the industry. For example, Fortinet is the king of UTM devices for branch offices but what if these appliances are suddenly replaced with standard Intel servers and virtual appliance software? Obviously this wouldn't be good news for Fortinet.For the most part, leading vendors are not pushing one model or another. Cisco WAAS equipment comes packaged with a Windows server while the Riverbed Service Platform (RSP) can run a Check Point firewall, a Websense gateway, an Infoblox DNS\/DHCP server, or basic Windows services. So which model wins? Both (Yeah, I know it is a cop out, but I truly believe this). It's likely that smaller branches go with Intel servers and VMs while larger remote offices stick with networking gear. Large organizations will also lean toward their favorite vendors. Cisco's networking dominance means it wins either way while Riverbed will likely do will in its extensive installed base and succeed at the expense of second-tier WAN optimization guys like SilverPeak. In truth, there is no right or wrong way at the branch office network, but the vendor debate ought to be very entertaining.