Mar 12 2009

10 Steps to a Speedy WAN

Follow these tips to improve your network's performance.

A chief challenge facing IT today is overcoming WAN bottlenecks. Web traffic is growing exponentially, making once enormous T1 bandwidth feel like dial-up. Plus, as more staff members work remotely, they put additional strain on already-overtaxed network resources. Here are suggestions to help improve network performance:

1. Identify big traffic sources.
Every network is different, so this step is essential. Most networks handle multiple sources of traffic. Wireless access points are notoriously poor resource managers, and large patch or application downloads can create network bottlenecks at inopportune times.

2. Create traffic policies.
User policies should be established so staff members understand the limits. Start by setting rules for what kinds of e-mail attachments should not be sent throughout the school. Instead of sending e-mail with large attachments to large lists, host attachments on a website or intranet, then provide a link.

Also set rules that dictate what websites should be avoided. Using firewall rules and content-filtering packages can control unwanted data streaming.

3. Eliminate the unnecessary.
By default, most network printers come with support for several protocols. Turn off unnecessary protocols and use the firewall to block ports you do not need. Check PCs for chatty applications. Use spyware-removal tools to eliminate malware or spyware that may install with other apps. Run msconfig to see which ones start up with Microsoft Windows, and eliminate everything you can. Turn off auto-updates from Windows, Adobe and other apps.

4. Prioritize traffic.
Use your router as a traffic cop. Give high priority to the most important data packets, such as Voice over IP packets. Advanced switching can improve network speed and quality of service.

5. Consider outsourcing heavy-use applications.
Some apps may be better off hosted by a third party, rather than at a central location. Take, for instance, a database or SharePoint application that many users will need to access every day. Placing applications onsite or offsite depending on workload can create more bandwidth for other apps and services.

6. For security and COOP, keep WAN optimization in mind.
Security systems often throttle traffic. Some scan packets for content filtering, which can create a slowdown that may cause retransmissions and thereby increase latency. Backups to offsite facilities should be done during off-peak hours. High-availability replication software can also reduce bandwidth if there are significant document changes on local servers. Always look for replication apps that transfer the delta changes only.

7. Consider cache servers and thin computing.
A document-management cache server cuts traffic by replicating files so there is a copy of all documents on both the main office and remote servers. This also keeps the remote site working if the connection fails.

A thin server that delivers access to your central server cuts bandwidth requirements because it transmits only mouse clicks, keystrokes and an occasional screen refresh.

8. Separate network resources.
Wireless systems are chatty devices, and videoconferences can be bandwidth cows. By giving such processes their own Internet connection, you can increase security and bandwidth simultaneously. Some firewalls let you redirect certain types of traffic to an additional Internet pipe, leaving more room on the main pipe for essential traffic.

9. Consider WAN acceleration.
WAN acceleration uses several methods to reduce traffic: Two accelerators can be used to compress point-to-point traffic so it travels more efficiently. Protocol spoofing looks for similar traffic that can be bundled. Caching web pages reduces Internet traffic because users access a stored cache on the local network for repeat requests.

10. Add more bandwidth.
The cost of bandwidth has dropped dramatically: Aggressive DSL prices have forced down the cost of copper connections. Fiber and wireless Internet options now let you add fat pipes and redundant bandwidth for a fraction of the cost in years past. It is now common to see T1s offered for as low as $500 a month.