net.work

The Way Business Is Moving

net.work published by
Issue Date: November 2007

Making your network work

November 2007

Your network: the heart of your company's IT infrastructure. Something usually taken for granted until it is down or slow. With the entry of broadband and its incredible promises - speed, lightning fast rates of transfer - the South African reality has proven somewhat different for users. Outrageous prices and capped data transfer have left many companies rethinking broadband.

While companies are becoming more aware of network enabling alternatives, Brandon Rochat, sales director: Expand Networks Africa, says CIOs should sit up and take note of one in particular: that of WAN (wide-area network) optimisation, "WAN optimisation can have a huge impact on a business, making a real difference to a company's ROI. With Gartner also extremely active in this area - with its own Magic Quadrant on WAN optimisation - businesses would do well to watch developments in this field. By working smarter, they can get their broadband to work faster."
Brandon Rochat, sales director: Expand Networks Africa
Brandon Rochat, sales director: Expand Networks Africa
Rochat goes on to explain that the initial bandwidth problem was caused when numerous applications migrated to the Web and were joined by a number of other converged IP services. "The previous router-based or single purpose solutions just did not have the capacity to deal with the sudden demand. What made it worse was the fact that many of these applications were not designed for the WAN in mind. In this way they added tremendous overheads to the existing network, slowing everything down."
With all businesses, no matter their industry, relying more and more on communications, broadband is coming under increasing pressure from companies to transfer everything from voice data to databases to realtime video and other imagery. Most of these applications are bandwidth intensive, with data demands increasing all the time. Managing data has thus become a priority. "Because broadband carries multiple signals and divides the total capacity of the line into multiple, independent bandwidth channels, with each channel operating only on a specific range of frequencies, a common solution to 'slow' broadband is to increase bandwidth, allowing a greater amount of files through the connection at any one time," says Rochat. In South Africa however, this approach is inevitably extremely expensive, with cost not necessarily equating to reward.
Rochat explains that data compression has become one of the most effective alternatives to increasing bandwidth size, "Compression effectively reduces the amount of data needed to store or transmit digital information, with compression algorithms exploiting a variety of methods of data reduction. These include everything from improving coding efficiency to reducing redundancy in messages to approximating the message rather than transmitting it exactly." He adds, however, that data compression involves tradeoffs - the most important of these being that the aggressive use of 'lossy' compression (a compression technique in which some data is lost) yields lower quality, "To achieve better quality, lossy algorithms are used more conservatively, resulting in compression ratios that are in fact lower than their maximums."
Data compression alone however, is insufficient to remedy the issue of bandwidth. Applications need to not only compress the data but also prioritise it and send it accordingly. In order to optimise then, the application must analyse the data packets in the 'pipe'. This understandably interrupts the flow of traffic causing it to slow down and queue up. "This makes it imperative for the compression and prioritisation technology you choose to focus on performance. The Expand Compass for example can consistently deliver average bandwidth increases between 100 and 400%, with peaks over 1000%," says Rochat. This means an expensive and low-width WAN can become a strategic asset: performing better, delivering more and ensuring business priorities are met.
WAN optimisation is thus definitely a technology to watch - especially in our context where the price of broadband is not set to go down anytime soon. Rochat adds that with the increased push to virtualisation the trend towards WAN optimisation is additionally being fuelled by consolidation into converged platforms, "Today, IT is largely involved in a great consolidation effort. Under the banners of economising or efficiency or even regulatory compliance, IT organisations everywhere are consolidating services. One of the more popular initiatives of consolidation today is WAFS (wide area file services). The way the Expand Compass optimises these file services is a perfect example of how virtualisation is already taking place and being adopted by companies using the Expand and Compass DNA."
The message to CIOs then would seem to be clear: while the purchase of more bandwidth is a possible solution to broadband issues, WAN optimisation in particular is an alternative to explore. With it also acting as the gateway to future technologies such as virtualisation, it could prove to be far more than just a viable solution.
For more information contact Brandon Rochat, sales director, Expand Networks Africa, +27 (0)82 498 7308, brandon.rochat@expand.com


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