How Next-Gen WAN Optimization Can Speed Up Business and Save Energy

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-12-16

How Next-Gen WAN Optimization Can Speed Up Business and Save Energy

Most of the green IT talk the last couple of years has centered on saving power in data center servers, using smart power supplies, and finding-and utilizing-wasted capacity in storage arrays.

Certainly, improvement in these areas are all good for everybody, and the advancements that have been made there are indeed newsworthy.

However, it's not always apparent how clean, efficient networking also can save energy, capital cost and maintenance time. Examples of this kind of green IT are not as common, but they, too, have value in this savings-conscious society.

This article is about how an international nonprofit organization upgraded its enterprise networking structure and came away with what it believes are great benefits. And it didn't cost the organization a pile of capital to do it.

What the German Marshall Fund Does

The subject enterprise is the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a relatively little-known, nonpartisan American public policy and grant-making institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between the United States and Europe.

GMF does this by funding individuals and institutions working on transatlantic issues, by convening leaders to discuss the most pressing transatlantic themes, and by examining ways in which transatlantic cooperation can address a variety of global policy challenges. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies.

Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., GMF has offices in Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara and Bucharest.

The Marshall Plan was a four-year program proposed by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall and instituted at the Paris Economic Conference in July 1947 to provide foreign assistance to 17 European nations during World War II reconstruction.

GMF was created by Germany and released to the United States to restore economic stability in Europe and to facilitate foreign trade. As a predecessor of NATO and the Atlantic alliance, it distributed a whopping $13 billion to other organizations between 1948 and 1951.

GMFs IT Challenge

GMF's IT Challenge

GMF is a small business, and despite all the money that it disperses, it doesn't have large administrative or IT budgets. Thus, it cannot afford to implement corporate-grade Internet connections in its offices around the world; several of its offices only employ two people.

With eight offices around the world, including four in Eastern Europe (an area known for poor Internet performance), and GMF's need for collaboration between all of its offices, the search began for an affordable way to bring it centralized management, centralized security and faster network performance.

GMF uses the Web mostly for taking in grant applications from all over the world, which often can become large files, thanks to various supporting documents-including audio and video files. There is also a fair amount of collaborative document and e-mail traffic among the eight offices.

In addition, it distributes information to different constituencies around the world dealing with international policy, said Michael O'Brien, GMF's senior IT director. For example, GMF has a big discussion going on about the use of biofuels, O'Brien said, and so there are a lot of large documents going back and forth within the network.

"We have a Web-based CRM in many of our offices, and it just wouldn't work," O'Brien said. "When we launched it, we realized it would only be available in some European offices, and in other European offices it just wouldn't work."

Having some offices up and running and others out of the loop at any given time simply wasn't acceptable.

"We are about to launch a new application for grants management," O'Brien said. "To do that, we knew we were going to have to upgrade our entire Internet section [of the data centers], which could end up costing thousands and thousands of dollars, or else look at WAN [wide-area network] acceleration."

Riverbed Provides the WAN Optimization

Riverbed Selected to Provide the WAN Optimization

Some of the European offices have DSL connections; some have cable modem connectivity, O'Brien said.

After doing its due diligence on vendor evaluation, GMF decided to go with Riverbed Technology, a San Francisco-based WAN optimization specialist whose data services accelerate business operations. 

Riverbed, which has about 4,500 customers, provides a comprehensive WDS hardware/software package to solve a host of common but often-severe problems that can effectively prevent enterprises from sharing applications and data across wide areas. In this context, "wide area" means anywhere in the world.

Riverbed's secret sauce is housed in its Steelhead WDS appliance, which addresses all the issues that affect application latency over the WAN. The appliance-which contains all the networking hardware and software in one plug-in-type package-is designed to improve the performance of file sharing, e-mail, backup, document management systems and IT tools, in addition to ERP and CRM applications.

Using Riverbed, these applications have been proven to be accelerated anywhere from five to 50 times faster, Riverbed Senior Vice President Eric Wolford told me.

"After we got them installed, not only did they work well, it was unbelievable how fast [the overall network performance] was," O'Brien said. "For example, to upgrade our Belgrade office in Serbia, where we pay about 50 euros a month for a DSL connection, the next possible upgrade would be to a Fibre Channel connection, which costs 600 euros per month.

"Consider that our Riverbed Steelhead WDS appliances cost us $3,000 or $4,000 apiece-that pays for itself very quickly."

Steelheads were integrated into every GMF office. The result was the creation of a GMF global network-the ability to work as a single organization-with significantly improved performance, O'Brien said.

GMF's IT department is now able to centrally manage the network as well as centrally control anti-spyware patch management for increased security, O'Brien said.

Because the grant documents are ingested and distributed faster across GMF's new world network, the system servers and storage arrays don't have to spin as long or as often as they used to, so electrical power saving is becoming a bottom-line savings factor.

Rocket Fuel