Accelerators Ramp Up WAN Performance

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CHARLOTTE, N.C.-The computer network runs at breakneck speed at Charlotte Metro Credit Union here: 100 employees across seven branches can work quickly even while application and file data are backed-up in real time to the disaster recovery site.

Charlotte Metro didn't buy more bandwidth to achieve current lightning-fast speeds-sometimes in excess of 300 megabits per second (Mbps)-over the wide-area network (WAN). Instead, CMCU deployed a WAN accelerator after reading a WAN optimization article in Credit Union Journal, said David Cooper, VP-information systems.

In fact, the $250-milllion CU made an unusual move and deployed eight WAN accelerators, one at each branch and one at the main server location and disaster recovery site, Cooper said. "We found that the network was three to four times more responsive at branches that had an accelerator than at branches that didn't, so we decided to go whole hog and deploy one at each branch."

The need for speed began last year when Charlotte Metro moved its main server from a small server room in the main branch to a more suitable location off-site, said Cooper. But that left employees accessing data over a slow T1 WAN instead of the fast local-area network (LAN) they were accustomed to.

"We were concerned about the lag times, so we were looking at prices for bigger bandwidth between the main branch and the colocation site," Cooper explained. But bandwidth costs are prohibitive, even for five Mbps connections, he said.

Charlotte Metro switched course and installed an NX WAN optimization appliance supporting encrypted data delivery through 10 Mbps connections at the main branch, the server colocation site and the disaster recovery site, Cooper continued.

The NX appliances are provided by Silver Peak Systems of Santa Clara, Calif., which offers WAN data backup, replication and recovery.

"The cost of a five Mbps bandwidth upgrade would have been so much of a difference over our current T1 connection that the WAN accelerators pay for themselves in eight months with nominal maintenance," said Cooper.

As for speed, "it's like you're working at LAN speeds, even though all data are moving over a WAN," he said. Charlotte Metro's WAN runs on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) architecture.

Cooper said he soon noticed that whereas the three locations with WAN accelerators were exchanging data quickly, the CU's remaining branches were lagging. "After three months using the accelerators, we found that our web applications were extremely responsive, except for the branches that didn't have WAN accelerators, where response was extremely slow.

"WAN acceleration is point-to-point, so if you don't have an accelerator at one location, that location doesn't know how to compress and reorganize the data to improve speeds," said Cooper.

Silver Peak technology inspects WAN data traffic in real-time, eliminating redundant data on each appliance and compressing the remaining data, according to Silver Peak. Data have been compressed by an average of 77% at the main server and disaster recovery sites, Cooper said.

Real-time backups used to be a distant dream, and buying more bandwidth wouldn't have helped, suggested Cooper. With Silver Peak, "we're replicating all of our production servers to the DR site in real-time and haven't noticed any interruption to performance. I could run the credit union from the DR site at any minute."

Network speed remains fast even as business units rely more and more on web applications to get work done, Cooper said. "Web apps require more bandwidth. Bandwidth utilization is increasing by 5% year over year for three years at each branch because of web apps."

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