Server Consolidation Cant Slow Down BE&K

Case Study: An architectural, engineering and construction company maintains rapid WAN response time as its IT department consolidates servers.

Like many large enterprises, the IT shop at BE&K was planning a server consolidation project last year. But network operators at the $1 billion engineering and architectural company knew that its WAN would never be able to provide the kind of response time necessary for critical applications if servers were no longer local to the users who accessed them.

So to be proactive and to quiet a squeaky wheel in one location who complained loudly about response time, network operators at BE&K set out to find the most appropriate application delivery controller for the companys needs.

Merely increasing the speed of the companys WAN links wouldnt do the job, according to Steve Melendez, network manager at BE&K, in Birmingham, Ala.

/zimages/6/28571.gifWAN accelerators provide bandwidth boost to remote users. Click here to read more.

"We knew we were about to max out our WAN pipes, and bumping those up wouldnt help. And with the server consolidation project, upper management finally realized we couldnt have a WAN expert at every office," Melendez said.

An architectural, engineering and construction company focused on industrial and commercial projects, BE&K maintains WAN connectivity to approximately 50 sites, including a handful of regional offices in New York; Washington; Houston; Delaware; Raleigh, N.C.; and Richmond, Va. Other locations cover subsidiaries and job sites.

As a cost-saving move, BE&K chose to consolidate its Microsoft Exchange servers and file servers at its Birmingham data center.

In addition, the company wanted to implement an electronic document management system for engineering drawings, dubbed Projectwise, that allows engineers to check out drawings and a range of file types shared with others. But at $15,000 a pop for each Projectwise server, BE&K sought to share a single server across multiple offices, rather than buying three separate servers.

Another driver behind the search for the right application accelerator was the need to allow multiple users to look at the same Microsoft Excel file at the same time, even though the users are located in different offices.

"There is a way with Excel that you can have more than one person look at a file at the same time, but, across a WAN link, it really slows things down," said Melendez.

So in late summer of 2005, Melendez and WAN analyst Ernie Pritchard evaluated application acceleration products from Juniper Networks, Riverbed Technology and Cisco Systems. According to Pritchard, the level of visibility provided by Junipers WXC appliances in being able to view the traffic types traversing the network pushed the decision toward Juniper.

"If we have frame [relay] and a VPN tunnel and we have ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] over Citrix, well send that through the frame [relay link] and send Web surfing over the VPN. And we can run SMS patches over the VPN connection so were not messing with our mainline applications. That was one thing Riverbed couldnt do," said Melendez.

Juniper reseller Level 3 Communications set up the evaluation for BE&K.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read a review of Riverbed and Blue Coat WAN acceleration solutions.

"We were facilitators. Our role was to quickly get the evaluation equipment, get [the WXC appliances] set up and shipped to their site," said Alan Bruton, vice president of operations at Level 3, also in Birmingham.

"We worked with them to show them how to configure [the WXC appliances] and got the Juniper engineer in to [help with the evaluation]," said Bruton.

Once the evaluation was completed, Pritchard said it didnt take long to get BE&K management to sign off on the purchase, thanks to the WAN cost savings afforded by the WXC application accelerators.

"We knew we needed something to centralize the servers, but the justification to management was the bandwidth savings. These [WXC appliances] are reducing traffic by two to four times, and the speeds are better than that. It directly affects the user experience," said Pritchard.

To date, BE&K has installed the WXC appliances in the headquarters in Birmingham; in the Washington office; in Houston, where the single Projectwise server is located; and in regional offices in Delaware and Raleigh.

"Were still adding more [locations]. Auburn, Maine, will go up soon, and we plan to use it in our satellite deployment," said Melendez.

BE&K, which does some government projects in remote locations, often finds that connectivity is limited.

"You cant run wires, but you can pop in a satellite with an accelerator," said Melendez. In fact, the next WXC accelerator deployment will be at a remote project site in Wyoming, according to Pritchard.

While the installation is "pretty straightforward," the approval process is dragging out the implementation time, according to Melendez.

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"People were used to files taking 2 minutes to load. When it went to 5 seconds, we thought theyd sign right then. They dont really understand it until the end users start singing its praises," Melendez said.

It shouldnt take long for that to happen. The squeaky wheel has been oiled, and users that are accessing remote Projectwise servers "dont know they arent there," said Pritchard.

"They think its local on their network. We set our mark at 10 seconds for waiting on the network, but were below that," Pritchard said.

At the same time, some locations have reported reductions in traffic flowing across their WAN links. Houston, for example, saw a total reduction of 60.4 percent, although HTTP reduction alone represents a 92.7 percent decrease, according to Melendez.

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