Aug 13 2013

Colleges Use WAN Optimization to Manage Bandwidth Consumption

Some IT managers use the technology to set specific policies, while others prefer to react to situations on a case-by-case basis.

Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., takes a fairly simple approach to WAN optimization.

Because streaming media encompasses roughly 50 percent of all traffic across the university network that serves more than 20,000 users, Network Administrator Krey Tinker set the maximum bandwidth any one person can use at 6 megabits per second.

“In an environment where one person could hog all the network bandwidth, WAN optimization is not a luxury; it’s a necessity,” says Tinker, who adds that the university deployed an Exinda appliance more than a year ago and it has proved its worth.

“The only real prioritization we do is allow the learning management system above all other applications, but it seems to work really well to limit the bandwidth the way we do,” Tinker says. “The users notice a real difference in overall performance.”

The Exinda tool also lets Tinker run reports about which applications consume the most bandwidth at peak times during the spring and fall semesters. Along with the learning management system, core applications include finance, payroll, grading and the university’s student information system. The university has held steady on its bandwidth levels thus far, but that’s about to change.

“With all the wireless devices coming to campus, the likelihood is that we’ll have to up our bandwidth in the fall,” Tinker says. “But with the Exinda tool, I can develop accurate metrics and have some good information to show top management.”

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says many organizations use WAN optimization to gain visibility into the network. “What IT managers will find is that these tools will let them identify what’s going on in the network so they can assign a bandwidth policy for the organization’s mission-critical apps.”

WAN Optimization Tools Spot the Troublemakers

Marc Seybold, CIO for SUNY Old Westbury in Long Island, N.Y., has a different take on WAN and network optimization tools. Seybold says he made a conscious decision not to deploy a WAN optimization tool, noting that IT managers should shy away from setting policies that interfere with bandwidth.

“The best thing we can do is stay out of the way,” Seybold says. “People are happiest when there’s plenty of bandwidth, so that’s why many colleges opt to simply add it rather than getting involved with the politics of shaping, which typically results in limiting bandwidth.”


The percentage of survey respondents who say that the quality of the end-user experience is the leading indicator for evaluating WAN performance

SOURCE: “Five Key Trends in WAN Optimization” (TRAC Research, September 2012)

However, Seybold says his team uses Riverbed Cascade Profiler to gain visibility into the network. Profiler lets him see where a single machine may be hosting BitTorrent sessions for 20 or more computers outside of the network. In a case like that, Seybold says it’s necessary to take action. Options may include either taking the offending machine off the network or limiting that machine’s bandwidth.

“I think using Profiler is a better approach, because instead of setting a blanket policy, I can respond to a specific incident,” Seybold says.

Profiler also saves the university money, he says. The university increased its Internet pipe to 500 megabits per second for the campus a little more than a year ago, but Seybold says the tools he has in place should allow SUNY Old Westbury to hold that steady for the next few years. Postponing the move to a more expensive 1-gigabit connection saves the university $26,940 per year.

“Unless something unforeseen happens, like large numbers of people having video conferencing sessions over the network for more than 20 minutes at a time, or using their computers as a substitute for TV, I think the only thing we might do is throttle the bandwidth during peak periods,” Seybold notes.

3 Considerations for Mobile WAN Optimization

As wireless devices proliferate in organizations, IT departments need to develop a strategy to manage bandwidth for mobile applications. Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst Mark Fabbi offers three considerations for IT managers seeking to optimize mobile traffic.

  • Identify which applications are mission-critical. Figure out which apps bog down the network or degrade user productivity. Start by developing a priority list of the mobile applications that are absolutely needed to improve performance.
  • Determine the type of users involved. Does the organization need a product that can manage traffic for faculty at other campuses or for students who are mainly on the go using a notebook computer? Or perhaps there’s a mix of tablets, smartphones and notebooks. The answers to these questions will determine which product manufacturer the organization chooses.
  • Perform a proof of concept. Understand that mobile WAN optimization offers some important gains, but it may not deliver the complete benefits IT departments see with traditional WAN optimization devices. Once the IT staff comes up with a list of priority applications, conduct real-world tests to determine if mobile WAN optimization improves performance enough to justify the investment.

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