The WAN at Widener University in Chester, Penn., serves not only the schools own students, faculty and administrators but also users in 12 surrounding school districts and a local technology park. Acting in effect as a regional ISP, Widener requires high-level network performance and availability but at the same time must watch its costs. By installing route control devices that automatically move traffic to the most efficient link, it accomplishes both goals.
Between its own users and external users, Widener provides Internet access to approximately 45,000, said Larry Pfeifer, network engineer at the university. Pfeifer contracts with two ISPs for two levels of bandwidth, a 45M-bps link and a 25M-bps link, he said.
Over the summer, Widener installed PathControl routing devices from RouteScience Technologies Inc. PathControl manages WAN connectivity and hosted applications, enabling the university to achieve high availability and performance without contracting with the highest-cost service providers.
Automatic traffic routing saves Pfeifer and his staff approximately 10 hours of network management labor a week, he said. Calling the network performance “incredible,” Pfeifer said the universitys Web site has achieved a 30 to 40 percent improvement.
Previously, the university did not have a useful fail-over plan, Pfeifer said, but with PathControls automatic fail-over function, the system can move traffic to the second ISP link within 10 seconds. “I can upgrade a router, pull it out of production and no one will even notice,” he said. Before installing PathControl, when the campus lost connectivity from one ISP, it took at least 20 minutes for the routes to transfer to the second ISP, he said.
PathControl also saves on connectivity costs by monitoring when the network approaches its bandwidth limit from one ISP and then transferring traffic to the other ISP. “As soon as we hit 20 meg on the 25 meg [connection], it transfers everything over to the 45 meg [connection],” Pfeifer said.
The ability to control the devices from RouteScience is an advantage the universitys network managers appreciate. “I dont want someone else changing the routes around for me,” Pfeifer said. “Anything that happens, Im responsible for. Its like someone else driving your car. You dont want someone else driving your car, especially if its a nice car.”
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Widener is the first university to deploy PathControl technology, but its use is typical of that of a standard enterprise, said Rob Pursell, director of product marketing at RouteScience in San Mateo, Calif.
With the WAN, the system optimizes the universitys third-party hosted applications, namely its “Campus Cruiser,” which is the online registration/course management site. The site naturally gets its greatest rush of users during registration week, when it can least afford network performance problems. “There are four days of the semester when Larrys phone is going to be ringing non-stop if the network is not optimized,” Pursell said.
Additionally, Widener uses PathControl to optimize outbound destination sites for the students, faculty and administrators. The system monitors and measures site destinations across the links and chooses the most efficient ISP connection. “They simultaneously get cost and performance benefit,” said Brian De Haaff, director of product management at Routescience.