DNA Lends Hand To WANs

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-08-28

If wide area networks are like congested freeways, startup Peribit Networks is ready to install high-speed mass-transit lines to make network traffic zoom.

The company, which plans to announce its first product today, has developed a new technology that improves network performance using a method best compared to the principles of mapping DNA. Using what Peribit Chief Scientist Amit Singh calls "molecular sequence reduction," or MSR, the company claims its technology can reduce wide area network (WAN) utilization by up to 90 percent.

In todays WAN environments, 70 to 90 percent of traffic is repetitive data - sequences of packets that routers transmit over and over again, said Dan OFarrell, Peribits vice president of product management. MSR identifies and eliminates that redundancy.

Existing solutions for improving WAN performance include using traffic shaping or quality-of-service techniques, which essentially give priority to more important traffic. But that means less important traffic takes even longer to arrive, and that approach, OFarrell said, is simply "robbing Peter to save Paul." Another solution to WAN congestion is to buy more bandwidth.

Peribit takes a different, more intricate approach. By placing its product, the SR-50, on each end of the WAN - one at the main office, one at a branch office - Peribit uses its MSR technology to rediscover and recover lost bandwidth.

In molecular biology, scientists replace DNA patterns that belong to a single trait with a smaller variable in order to more closely identify and study that trait. "MSR is the link between the world of molecular biology and data networking, taking techniques used to study DNA and optimizing it to fit data networks," OFarrell said.

In Peribits implementation, the SR-50 on one end of the network uses algorithms to discover repetitive data streams, assigning each one with a variable, such as X, Y or Z. It then tells the SR-50 on the other end what data streams those variables stand for. The next time the originating SR-50 sees a particular data stream, instead of sending that whole stream it only sends the variable, which the SR-50 on the other end understands to transform back to the original data stream - thus saving the WAN from sending the larger packets.

"When youre able to find repetitive patterns in the data stream you then have the ability to shed extraneous traffic and make the network a lean, mean infrastructure," OFarrell said.

He also said there is no interference when using a virtual private network, which encrypts WAN traffic, when using the SR-50. In fact, he said, an encrypted tunnel becomes even more secure as a byproduct of using the SR-50 because sometimes the encrypted data isnt the actual data, just the variable that represents it, further hiding it from a would-be snoop.

"Its pretty wild," said Matt Kessner, the chief technology officer at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West. Kessner has been using Peribits system since it was in beta. "What weve measured is IP traffic reductions, depending on the applications, between 62 [percent] and 93 percent, averaging in the high 60s," Kessner says.

Fenwick & West uses the boxes to connect its San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offices to its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters. Kessner said they had previously used a T1 to connect the two California offices but with the expansion from 20 lawyers to 100, the 1.5-megabit-per-second connection had reached its limits. Having difficulty obtaining a fiber connection provider, Fenwick & West looked to one of its clients, Peribit, for a solution. "It made the T1 almost bearable," said Kessner. "We didnt have any problems and more than doubled our capacity."

The firm still opted to provision the 5-Mbps fiber link, over which the Peribit boxes offered the same traffic savings. "Were looking at videoconferencing now, so were definitely going to need this," Kessner said.

Peribits SR-50 starts at $20,000; however, two are needed to get started. To get the most from the investment, Peribit suggests tying telecommuters to the nearest office so their data can go over the SR-50 as well.

The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., in January received $10.4 million in first-round funding from Accel Partners and Foundation Capital.

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