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More bang for your bandwith buck

01 Nov 2009

Users have high expectations about the speed it should take to send and receive large files. They want to be  able to access electronic fi les quickly, securely and within seconds. But can that be achieved in remote sites given the country’s current broadband infrastructure? Sarah Putt investigates the potential of WAN Optimisation to maximise broadband delivery to branch offi ces, and looks at the rise of these solutions in the local market.

IF your company’s branch offi ces are located in the nooks and crannies of the rugged New Zealand landscape, should the users at those sites expect a seamless Internet experience?

Yes, says Christine Dormaar, CIO at Solid Energy.

It’s her job to ensure that connectivity to the company’s remote mines is stable, secure – and seamless.

According to Dormaar, the ability to quickly download large data sets and imagery that employees regularly send each other is critical to improving productivity at Solid Energy.

“It changes people’s behaviour. If they think it’s going to take them too long to copy a fi le they’re not going  to bother, they’re going to stick it on a CD. But if they know it’s only going to take a few seconds to do, it  encourages them to store information centrally, rather than have little pockets of information all over the place.”

Dormaar says users are precious about their information – they want it to be at hand in seconds, not minutes.  If they don’t have faith that it can be delivered remotely, then the IT department won’t get buy-in to the  greater effi ciencies that centralising services can bring.

But it’s not easy to deliver a seamless experience when a site is 17km from a town exchange, down a copper  pipe delivering 2Mbps to 120 users. That’s the challenge Dormaar faced at the company’slargest site; the  Stockton mine of the West Coast. It was connected to head office in Christchurch and to a smaller site in Westport serving 20 users.

It was the company’s telco supplier Gen-i that suggested they install Riverbed Steelhead appliances at a one-off cost of $40,000 to both remote sites.

Gen-i client manager Simon Craigie says they evaluated four products before selecting the Riverbed solution.  He says WAN Optimisation is a good way for IT managers to ‘squeeze’ as much bandwidth out the  connection as they can, and while the products are used to enhance the delivery of business applications, he  expects that solutions will become available for niche applications that are specifi c to industries such as  mining.

The Steelhead product is a kind of bolt-on appliance that makes business applications more effi cient to run,  Dormaar explains: “If I send an email to all Westport staff (20 people) and it has a 1MB attachment, when it hits the Riverbed at the other end it caches the email, so that when somebody opens it they access the copy on  the local server – they aren’t going back across the network to access it.”

During the trial period Solid Energy compared network performance and application response times before  and after the Steelhead appliances were installed. Dormaar says theresults were “staggering”.

“All the results improved dramatically, but the ‘file copy’ test results were particularly impressive – improving  by up to 700%,” she says.

The company has since implemented the appliances in two Huntly mines. Although these sites are connected by fibre, one of the sites, at Rotowaro, is the disaster recovery site.

Dormaar is also  expecting the West Coast mines to be connected with fibre laid by Telecom’s Chorus in the  new year, but even with the faster speeds enabled by fibre connectivity, WAN Optimisation will still improve  performance.

That’s because fast connectivity is only part of the issue. The other impediment to network performance is latency.

Riverbed Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand Steven Dixon says that if latency is greater than five milliseconds, then the user suffers.

He uses the analogy of a car trip from Auckland and Wellington – if you have 10,000 lanes on the road it  wouldn’t radically improve the time it took to travel between the cities.

“It’s not things going fast; it’s going wider. In the IT world when sending a fi le, before you can move data  there are over 100 pieces of communication to check at the application level – then it has to wait for  acknowledgement, then you move a bit more. It’s not driving between Auckland and Wellington once, it’s  driving there and back 1000 times before you can say you’ve arrived. So 20-30 milliseconds’ delay doesn’t sound like a lot – but multiply it by 1000 times.”

Frost and Sullivan analyst Edison Yu agrees that reducing latency is the key. “The truth is, even if you do  traffi c management it doesn’t reduce the core problem, which is application latency.”

Riverbed has seen a rapid increase in demand for its services in the past year, with the fastest growing sector  of customers being service providers – they now make up 25% of Riverhead’s customer base worldwide. Yu  says this growth is in line with what other vendors in the space are experiencing, as telcos see the business  advantages of WAN optimisation technologies.

“Their (the carriers’) primary objective was to sell more bandwidth, but I think in recent times they have  realised there is so much morethey can do if they free up space in the pipe and offer value-added services.”

According to Frost and Sullivan research, in 2008 the WAN optimisation market grew by 20.8% on a  year-on-year basis and hit an overall market size of $68.1 million in Australia and New Zealand (NZ was 13% of the market). The research company is predicting revenues to rise to $233.7 million ayear by 2015.

“The future of WAN optimisation seems bright in the ANZ market, as enterprises in the region look to WAN  acceleration solutions to boost their network performance and make their WAN more application-friendly. The  convergence between WAN acceleration and WAN traffic management is also likely to be well received  by ANZ enterprises, especially as both markets move towards the superbroadband era, whereby bandwidth speeds are expected to increase substantially in the near future,” the researchers said.

Frost and Sullivan’s research identifies the following three top drivers for WAN Optimisation technologies:

1.  Economic growth and expansion of corporate networks

2. Growing dependency on business applications

3. Relatively slow bandwidth speeds.

“Similarly, the drive towards virtualisation and data centre consolidation is also going to feature heavily on the  future evolution of the WAN optimisation market in ANZ. Moreover, the high proportion of SMEs in the  ANZ markets is expected to stimulate demand for managed WAN optimisation services, as smaller sized  enterprises may find dedicated WAN optimisation appliances too costly to purchase and maintain,” the report  says.

Yu says that aside from the need to improve internal networks, the push towards globalisation has made  optimising bandwidth performance to suppliers and customers overseas more important to business success, especially to Asian countries with fast broadband connectivity.

“China is one of the biggest markets for New Zealand exports,” he says. “China has a really strong bandwidth  structure, it’s really cheap. A lot of the time NZ business people have to work with their Chinese counterparts,  so it’s really important that performance is not lagging behind.”

Demand for WAN optimisation products in ANZ is primarily from major users such as government, and  banking, financial services and insurance markets (see pie graph on page 21). But Frost and Sullivan research  suggests that WAN vendors will look towards developing managed solutions for the SME market: “The high  proportion of SMB enterprises in New Zealand has definitely given WAN optimisation vendors much to think  about when it comes to driving adoption rates of the technology among these smaller-sized price-sensitivecompanies.”

Globally some of the largest vendors in this space are Blue Coat (Packeteer), Riverbed, Cisco and Juniper, but  regionally Frost and Sullivan estimates there more than 10 vendors, whose products are distributed via resellers, integrators and service providers.

Earlier this year Gartner analysed the market for mid-sized business and identified four WAN Optimisation  technologies, which it defined as follows:

WAN Optimisation Controllers address application performance problems caused by bandwidth constraints, latency or protocol limitations, or a combination of these constraints.

Data Duplication is the process of dividing a file into smaller ‘chunks’ or segments of data and comparing each  segment to a catalog of chunks that has been previously processed by either a backup application or a  isk-based appliance.

Network Access Control is a process of that evaluates the security state of an endpoint as it connects to the  network; monitors the security state of endpoints that are already connected; and implements network access policies based on the state of the endpoint, the threat environment and user identity.

Security Information and Event Management technologies provide two main capabilities: security event  management analyses security event data in real time, and security information management analyses and  reports on log data.

Gartner principal analyst Bjarne Munch says before adopting one of these technologies, CIOs need to first ask  what they want to achieve.

“What are you trying to do? What’s the end goal? You need to be specific,” he says.

Once you have decided what you want WAN Optimisation products to achieve, it’s a case of looking for the  vendors that are leaders in those technologies.

For Dormaar at Solid Energy, that involved her own research as well as listening to recommendations from   her telco supplier. But even then she was careful to seek references from other Riverbed customers.There was some confi rguration in the network required to optimise its performance, but during the entire trial process, Dormaar says the users were unaware that anything had been changed on the network.Nor did they    comment once all the testing was complete and the Steelhead appliances were up and running – cutting the time it took to send and receive documents from minutes to seconds.“They just notice that stuff is just faster; more to the point they didn’t notice it had improved,” she says. “You only notice things that go wrong. Sad but true. A good response is when people notice nothing. When there are no complaints.”