Engineers tackle big waits for big files

Wide-area network optimization system reduces delays

Storing large project files separately in its 20 offices worked fine for environmental engineering firm GEI Consultants until employees with different specialties had to start collaborating on jobs.

Once those electronic documents had to be worked on at more than one site, both transmitting and keeping track of them became a challenge, according to CIO Ray Barry. Server consolidation looked like the answer, and the company started planning for it. But there was so much latency across GEI's network connections that transfers of CAD (computer-aided design) and GIS (geographic information systems) files, which were 800M bytes and larger, took several hours.

"People quickly realize the effect of latency when you're passing a very large file," Barry said. "That issue was really a roadblock for us trying to look at centralizing storage of my company's files." GEI had to take the project off the drawing board.

GEI, with 340 employees, is not alone among medium-size enterprises in wanting to centralize its servers or make the links between its remote sites run faster, according to industry analysts. Most medium-size companies have at least three or four facilities, and just having a file server, print server and Active Directory server in each location can create an expensive headache for a small IT staff, said Rob Whiteley of Forrester Research.

"It's a quick hit for cost savings and operational efficiency to centralize all that," Whiteley said.

But before it could do so, GEI needed a WAN (wide-area network) optimization system to reduce delays. Server centralization is one of several factors, including backups and Windows file sharing, that are leading medium-size companies to seek WAN optimization, said Michael Brandenburg of Current Analysis.

"Eventually, every enterprise or [small and medium-size business] is going to get to that point," Brandenburg said.

GEI is based in Woburn, Massachusetts, and provides consulting services to developers, governments and other clients concerning geological, water and environmental issues. Its offices throughout the U.S. range from five to about 50 employees, and its engineers have a wide range of specialties, Barrie said.

Until recently, each of those offices tended to work on its own projects without much help from others, Barry said. But as GEI's projects grow more complex, employees with different skills rely on each other more.

"Our collaborative work between our offices is only going to increase," Barry said. That often means importing CAD and GIS files from across the country, making changes, and sending them back. Also, IT staff needs to give employees from different offices the rights to get into the remote files they need. Putting all that information in one data center, with a standard system of naming and organizing files, would help employees find the correct version of each file to work with, he said. It would also make it easier to properly keep or discard versions of files, which helps with record-keeping laws and court cases, he said.

Even as it plans for server consolidation, GEI is making changes in its network that make WAN optimization more critical. The company is rolling out IP (Internet Protocol) telephony across its offices, which adds new traffic to its data network. And as part of that move and to increase security, it is switching from individual Internet connections for each office to an MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) managed service. That means all offices share one connection to the carrier network, a potential bottleneck, so GEI needs to make more efficient use of its bandwidth, Barry said.

While investigating server consolidation, Barry was introduced to Exinda Networks, an Australian vendor of WAN optimization and application acceleration gear. GEI set out to solve its latency problem and now has Exinda appliances in nine of its sites that already have MPLS connectivity. Ultimately, the company will probably install twice that many, Barry said. The devices have slashed transfer times by 30 percent to 40 percent, he said.

The market is full of WAN optimization products, but many are designed for large enterprises. GEI chose Exinda partly because it cost less than alternatives such as Packeteer or Riverbed, Barry said. He's not alone, Forrester's Whiteley said. The first wave of a network technology is usually geared toward large enterprises, and WAN optimization is now in its second phase, so vendors such as Exinda are going after smaller customers that are more sensitive to price and want a product that's sized right for their business, he said.

Another highlight of Exinda's product is that it can deliver detailed information about how GEI's network is being used, Barry said. This became more important with MPLS, because with the new network, all the offices share a common entry point to the Internet, he said. It showed Barry's team what kinds of traffic were going through that link so they could block non-work applications, such as Internet radio, that got in the way. The visibility is also providing baseline information about network load so the IT department can make a case for more bandwidth if it's needed as a result of data-center consolidation, he said.

But before centralizing its servers and storage, which Barry estimated at 4T bytes of data, GEI needs to find an effective document management system it can afford, he said. The company will probably consolidate its data center in early 2009, Barrie said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?