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Cost-effective WAN fixes, not buzzwords the challenge at Interop 2009

Affordable WAN solutions that have an immediate impact on the bottom line, as well as on the overall performance of a WAN should be the focus of the 2009 Interop technology trade show taking place this week in Las Vegas.

When the curtain rises on the Interop technology trade show in 2009 Las Vegas this week, at least two things may be immediately apparent:

  1. The crowds may be a little thinner on the exhibit floor, as companies continue to cut back and restrict unnecessary travel;
  2. The people who did make it through the budgetary gauntlet and are at the show will be less interested in vague buzzwords and 'trend talk', and more focused on solutions that help them affordably meet user demands and put more muscle and accessibility behind WAN-based applications.

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 Mark Goodman, director of marketing at WAN link controller company Ecessa, expects topics like cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS), and virtualization to get a lot of mileage at the event. A quick look at the conference agenda supports that point. What he and others at Ecessa are finding, however, is that more customers are looking for solutions that have an immediate impact on the bottom line, as well as on the overall performance of a WAN.

In many cases, this means taking a hard look at existing legacy systems and applying tools and techniques that can stretch out the utility and lifespan of those systems, or provide a painless bridge to newer technologies.

Using the WAN to cut communications costs

This week, for example, the company unveiled a controller that combines SIP management tools with its proprietary failover technology to channel VoIP voice traffic over multiple WANs and service provider networks. 

The result is an appliance that not only improves the quality of service (QoS) of networked VoIP calls, but can significantly cut a company's traditional phone service bills.

The ClariLink controller was developed in response to customer and partner demands to come up with a solution that can address QoS issues and reduce increasing communications costs, Goodman pointed out. It will be shown for the first time at Interop and will be generally available by Q3 this year, said company officials.

Ecessa also plans another product announcement at Interop that could open doors into higher ends of the market and appeal to fast growing vertical segments, like healthcare and education. Right now, roughly 60% of the company's sales filter through the channels, as well as network integrators and consultants.

A WAN developer walks into a bar… 

Business continuity -- simply put, keeping things going when the going gets tough -- is also on the mind of most users right now as they cope with tight budgets and an increasingly mobile and telecommuting workforce.

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This is the case at legendary The Second City comedy and entertainment organization, which installed an Ecessa PowerLink controller with a built-in WAN aggregation capability to counter problems it was having with unreliable WAN connections and frequent weekend service outages. These disruptions created problems as the company tried to process weekly tickets sales and bar tabs, as well as provide forecasting capabilities to locations in several cities across North America, including Toronto, Los Angeles and its Chicago base.

"We had a WAN connection that occasionally went down, and planned service outages on the weekends," said John McCloskey, IT and Web Manager for Second City in Chicago. "That's absolutely the worst time for us because that is when we are trying to close out all of our tabs."

Second City's IT team wanted a solution that could aggregate outbound connections to get around any WAN reliability issues and maintain inbound connections so they could continue to sell tickets for all locations through the Chicago hub and let people view their Web site for future events. Compatibility with existing SonicWall network and remote access products was also important, he explained.

Rather than aimlessly wander trade show floors, Second City's IT team talked to a number of colleagues working at much larger organizations and asked what they were using or recommended. A number steered them away from a system they had been considering, which led them to Ecessa and its controller solution.

"I tried to get an idea of what the large enterprise organizations are using and get an idea of how well that would scale down to BS&B environment here," McCloskey said.

Controlling WAN optimization costs: Dressed for success at Carhartt

Keeping costs under control, however, will no doubt dominate the Interop event as users look sniff out those solutions that can quickly eliminate unnecessary costs and boost performance. That is a constant IT and networking challenge at 120-year-old global clothing manufacturer Carhartt, Inc., faced with escalating communications costs at its U.S. and foreign locations.

The company consolidated its IT operations at the Dearborn, MI headquarters four or five years ago. However, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with patch updates, software support and bandwidth demands without adding expensive T1 lines, said network analyst Asif Khan. The solution was to install a Riverbed Technology Steelhead appliance, on loan from the company at the time, which has since grown into a dozen WAN optimization systems across various locations. These appliances have resulted in a 40% reduction in traffic on the WAN and a 75% reduction in file download times, according to figures provided by Riverbed.

"Whatever money you have, you want to spend wisely and in the right spot," said Khan who previously worked for more than a decade at EDS.

Riverbed will be showing its optimization appliance line at Interop. This week, the company also announced an expanded relationship with Microsoft Corp. to further support its Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 products and enable the deployment of Windows Server 2008 R2.

Some of the things Khan will be watching to come out of trade shows like Interop and other sources are solutions that focus on user collaboration, security, and virtualization of the firewall and the optimizing controller itself.

For the short term, Khan is also looking into the area of management consoles to give him a more granular picture of what is happening within a network.

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