Dec 18 2012

WAN Optimization Tools Boost Efficiency

Agencies save money on costly circuits, reduce latency and improve bandwidth utilization.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs deployed WAN optimization devices more than six years ago so the agency could make do with its DS3 circuits.

“If we didn’t take steps to optimize traffic, we would have had to upgrade our circuits to OC-3, and that would have been costly,” says Peter Whitson, deputy executive director for enterprise systems engineering for the VA’s Office of Information and Technology.

The VA rolled out Riverbed Technology’s Steelhead WAN optimization gear to roughly 350 of the agency’s 1,500 locations. The devices serve more than 50 percent of the staff in regional offices, medical centers and data centers. “For certain types of applications, we’ve reduced the amount of traffic that would go over the WAN link by 80 percent,” says Whitson, adding that, for example, an application that had previously used 10 megabits per second of a link might now consume only 2Mbps.

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says large IT organizations such as the VA also seek to consolidate devices and data centers. “Now it’s possible to roll up WAN optimization devices like Riverbed Steelhead as a virtual instance,” he notes.

Whitson says that’s precisely what the VA recently began piloting on its cloud-based test network. The latest Steelhead EX devices come embedded with the VMware vSphere hypervisor.

“By deploying a WAN optimizer as a virtual session, we don’t have to worry about performing the asset management of a physical appliance,” Whitson says. “There’s no need to expand port capacity, and it eliminates all the extra cabling work.”

30% The percentage of survey respondents who encountered challenges in delivering latency-sensitive applications such as VoIP and video to remote locations

SOURCE: “The Evolution of WAN Optimization” (Enterprise Strategy Group, February 2012)

While the WAN optimization gear helps the VA prioritize traffic, the agency also must use the quality of service (QoS) features within the routers, terminal services and traffic management with the carrier to manage the network.

“We’re up against bring your own device like everyone else,” says Whitson. “We’ve also seen an increase in veterans using self-service web apps. Our bandwidth needs are constantly expanding.”

Video Prioritization

While the VA has an annual budget in excess of $3 billion, the California Rural Legal Assistance nonprofit organization must make do with a $15 million annual budget, roughly 60 percent of which comes from the federally funded Legal Services Corp.

Marques Varnado, the agency’s systems administrator, uses the multipurpose Barracuda Networks NG Firewall to manage and secure traffic for the agency’s 18 offices. The NG device offers content filtering, intrusion protection and WAN optimization.

California Rural Legal Assistance hasn’t used the WAN optimization features much, but Varnado plans to use those capabilities more as the agency implements Voice over Internet Protocol and begins exploring a video conferencing system to reduce travel costs for community workers and legal aid attorneys.

“I’ll use the WAN optimization features to prioritize the video and voice traffic,” Varnado says. “For now, I’ve been using the dynamic QoS features within the Barracuda firewall.”

For more about WAN optimization product capabilities, see "WAN Optimization Products Change with the Times."