Accelerating safety

With a London office housing most of its employees, and a much smaller branch office in Birmingham, the British Safety Council, a non-profit organisation that provides health and safety training, found itself in a common predicament.

The organisation did not want to build a separate, local IT infrastructure for its employees in the branch office, so it provided access to data, email and applications housed in the London office via the web. Unfortunately, the lack of bandwidth available at the Birmingham office rendered these systems slow.

This was not just a matter of inconvenience, recalls Steven Ward, the BSC’s IT manager. “There was a huge amount of frustration among the remote users,” he says.

“Not only was productivity gone, but also morale. If you’re stuck in the office out in the sticks with a system that doesn’t really work, you start to feel a bit neglected.”

When Ward decided to resolve the issue, the first option he considered was to rent a two megabit leased-line between head office and Birmingham, but that proved to be prohibitively expensive. “The installation costs would have been £3,000 and yearly costs were £9,000,” recalls Ward.

So, in order to optimise the performance of the existing network, he investigated WAN acceleration technology. That led him to Citrix’s WANScaler product, technology acquired by the company with its August 2006 acquisition of Orbital Data.

The WANScaler appliances, one of which now resides in the London office and the other in Birmingham, work in two ways. Firstly, they compress the data that is transferred between the two locations. But they also keep a record of what data has been transferred. If a document is being sent for the second time, only the data that has been changed is transmitted.

This had a dramatic impact on system performance, as the BSC’s own testing revealed. For example, Ward says that a 2MB .pdf would have previously taken about 38 seconds for someone in the branch office to attach to an email. Now, it takes just 4.4 seconds the first time it is attached, and about two seconds for every subsequent attachment of that document.

The cost of the WANScaler implementation was far preferable, says Wade. “The initial hardware outlay was £10,000, just over the annual support cost for the leased-line. But we only pay £700 a year in maintenance.” Wade adds that he considered competitive products from vendors such as Riverbed and Juniper, “but it seemed to me that they provided the same functionality at a greater cost.”

Not only has the system restored productivity, but also delivered a much needed morale boost. “As soon as you see some cutting-edge technology being used to solve your problem, you start to feel a lot better,” says Ward.

Further reading

Consolidating WAN acceleration
WAN optimisation pioneer Packeteer falls to independent upstart Blue Coat Systems as market attracts heavyweights

File sharing beyond the speed of light
Riverbed ups the pace of WAN acceleration

Citrix is latest vendor to hike prices
Weak dollar blamed for 10% rise in application infrastructure costs outside US

Find more stories in the Comms & Networking Briefing Room

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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