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Users find the secrets of WAN optimization

WAN optimization performance benefits are not the only reason to try the technology

By , Network World
June 03, 2010 01:26 PM ET

Network World - While the benefits of WAN optimization are well documented – better application performance for example, – finding the right gear can address unrelated business goals.

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Blue Coat user Michael Shisko, the director of IT for Hitachi Consulting, said his company started looking for WAN optimization gear when it switched from an Internet VPN to a hub-and-spoke MPLS WAN service. Shisko said while 60% to 70% of the company's VPN traffic was ineligible for optimization because it was to and from Web sites, 100% of the MPLS WAN traffic was eligible. The company tested WAN optimization devices from Silver Peak, Riverbed and Blue Coat.

"The response was a remarkable dud," he says. Tests showed dramatic statistical improvement in performance, but nothing that would appease disgruntled users. Typical Word and Excel response times dropped from 30 seconds to 20 seconds, but that was still too long. "[Users] didn't perceive it as being any faster. The problem was that they weren't getting LAN-performance speed," Shisko says

Performance gains among U.S. sites weren't significant enough to warrant buying the gear, but the company installed it between its data center in Dallas and European offices cutting response times on key applications down from several minutes to several seconds.

Keeping an eye on the business goal of improving performance so end users would notice, the company bought Blue Coat optimization gear just for the international sites but not others. Hitachi Consulting already used Blue Coat's traffic monitoring/shaping gear, Packet Shaper. "The Blue Coat strategy included tight integration with PacketShaper. Just raw acceleration was not the goal but intelligent acceleration was," he says.

The goal was different for Booz & Co., which was centralizing branch servers to reduce capital and operational costs, says Ted Theofanos, senior manager of IT infrastructure for the firm.

The company tested several vendors' gear – Theofanos wouldn't say which ones – but liked Cisco's WAN optimization gear WAAS because it tunneled traffic in separate TCP sessions, enabling more detailed monitoring of traffic over the WAN. It was also integrated with Cisco's Netflow system that gathers further traffic information that can identify user and applications that are blocking more important traffic.

The gear reduced traffic between 20% and 40% of the volume it took up before optimization, and the result is that the company hasn't had to expand bandwidth on its MPLS network as fast as it would have without the technology, he says.

Similarly, Columbian Chemicals of Marietta, Ga., was doing server consolidation, says Eric Mermelstein, the enterprise infrastructure architect for Columbian Chemicals. After testing boxes from Cisco, Expand Networks and Riverbed, company decided on Riverbed. The gear is now installed at 18 sites over a meshed MPLS WAN from Verizon, allowing the elimination of 14 local servers and their associated costs.

Active directory servers still reside in branches on virtual machines in the Riverbed boxes themselves via a feature called Riverbed Services Platform (RSP) – disk space that supports VMware virtual machines. That keeps down the amount of hardware needed at each site.

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