Wide area network (WAN) management and achieving visibility into WAN application performance became a priority
for a global company with more than 1,000 offices when it decided to consolidate its enterprise applications in one global data center.
SGS Group, a leading inspection, testing and certification firm headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, needed a vendor that could combine traffic shaping, WAN acceleration, compression and reporting on a single platform, said David Dodds, global network and IT security manager. Ultimately, he chose WAN optimization vendor Ipanema Technologies.
"We decided we needed to have a single global network," Dodds said. "The central hosting of applications meant we also needed to have better visibility of network traffic and a single point of contact for fault management."
First, Dodds implemented a global WAN that connected his company's hundreds of offices scattered around the world. The legacy WAN connected each of SGS Group's national headquarters, and each of those headquarters served as a central hub for regional networks. About seven years ago, Dodds selected a single global provider to link about 760 of his locations. He chose VANCO, which was acquired by Reliance Globalcom in 2008.
Having a single global WAN provider improved WAN management from the perspective that Reliance Globalcom could monitor the status of individual links, Dodds said. WAN application performance management was another matter, however.
WAN management means more than fault detection
"[The carrier is] monitoring whether sites are up or down, but normally they're not looking at individual application performance," he said. "They're looking at latency from router to router but not telling us if there is a problem with an individual application."
Dodds had locations with complaints from month to month. "Some sites at month-end closing had trouble with ERP [enterprise resource planning] traffic," he said. "We had other sites where they were running applications that were sensitive to latency on the network."
At first, Dodds focused on what he described as point-to-point technologies from vendors like Packeteer (since acquired by Blue Coat Systems) to solve these performance problems with compression and traffic shaping, targeting individual sites that were experiencing specific WAN application performance problems. Over time, however, he realized that he needed a WAN optimization technology that could help establish a global WAN management strategy.
"We began to realize that we wanted something more global across the network, and if possible something that didn't require boxes at every location," he said. "With the number of locations we had, it would be incredibly expensive to try to equip most of the sites with some sort of optimization device."
Dodds chose Ipanema Technologies, mainly for its Virtual IP-Engine technology, a patented technique in which the physical WAN optimization appliances in central sites create virtual images of remote locations that have no appliances. The multiple physical appliances on the WAN then consolidate information from these virtual sites and coordinate with one another to optimize application flows to and from the remote sites.
With just 60 physical Ipanema boxes in his data center and most of the main network hub sites and country headquarters, Dodds has been able to optimize WAN application performance across 250 critical sites. "And for countries where we need compression," he said, "we have boxes in those individual sites because compression needs a box at each end."
Better WAN management through visibility into WAN application performance
The reporting capabilities of Ipanema have allowed SGS Group to apply what Ipanema describes as WAN governance, the process of understanding the peaks and valleys of traffic generated by both critical and noncritical applications on the network. Using the knowledge gained from this reporting allows Dodds to manage WAN application performance by giving priority to certain applications at certain times.
"We can say, OK, this month, this is the percentage of traffic over the network from Oracle or ERP traffic," he said. "This is how much was Exchange traffic . And based on that visibility, we can adjust prioritization in the system if we want to."
Complaints about WAN application performance have mostly gone away, Dodds reports. His staff is able to react to problems before users perceive them.
"Quite often before a circuit goes down, we may get some bad performance," he said. "Packet loss might increase. We'll get alerts from the system, which we send to the network help desk so they can see it straightaway. If one particular application is having a problem in various sites, that points to a problem with our data center or the application itself. Or if all applications are having trouble for a particular site, then that site is having a problem. This is something you can see in one glance."
With better WAN management come some surprises
Reza Mahdavi, president of Ipanema, said that once enterprises achieve better visibility into WAN application performance, many find that a startlingly small amount of WAN bandwidth is being used for critical applications. His company recently surveyed about 50 customers and found that just 3% of their overall network bandwidth was consumed by what they identified as critical business applications. About 54% of bandwidth was consumed by the lowest-priority applications, like Facebook.
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Dodds said this reality of bandwidth consumption complicates how an enterprise prioritizes traffic.
"It's interesting," he said. "When we started to deploy [Ipanema] three years ago, we had several global applications -- our ERP, a global lab management system and several other apps -- that we could say were our critical traffic, from a traffic shaping point of view, to give the highest priority in the Ipanema system. But today, it's much more difficult." While globally his company would normally rate email traffic at a low priority and Internet traffic even lower, in some locations, email is business-critical, Dodds noted. In others, access to websites for business purposes has become critical as well.
"In the end," he said, "if you prioritize everything, you have no prioritization at all. But there still has to be some order."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor.