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Data center consolidation demands WAN upgrade and optimization

One law firm's data center consolidation project leads to an MPLS migration and the adoption of WAN optimization. Sidley Austin consolidated its seven U.S. data centers down to one primary data center and a backup and connected all of its locations with Riverbed Steelhead appliances.

A global law firm wanted to enjoy the economies of scale that a large data center consolidation project could bring. It found that upgrading its data center infrastructure required upgrading its wide area network (WAN) as well, executing an MPLS migration and deploying WAN optimization controllers throughout the company.

Sidley Austin, a global law firm headquartered in Chicago, wanted to migrate from a highly decentralized infrastructure, where each of its 17 offices across the United States, Asia and Europe had its own data center, to three regional data centers, according to the firm's CIO, David Otte. In 2008, the firm embarked on the first phase of the data center consolidation project: replacing its seven  U.S. data centers with one regional data center and a backup.

"The consolidation was motivated by the desire for operational efficiency," Otte said. "We had data centers in all our locations, basically identical data centers in all of our offices, with the different footprints depending on the size of the office. We understood that to be agile and to be able to open new offices, we had to have one standard model with a regional data center. We didn't want to do [infrastructure] upgrades for seven or 17 different sites."

Otte said the data center consolidation project was also aimed at enhancing the firm's disaster recovery capabilities. Rather than have backups for seven data centers, he wanted to establish one backup for a single regional data center.

From a wide area network perspective, the data center consolidation project required a network upgrade. Sidley Austin's legacy WAN was a frame relay, "quasi-mesh network," Otte said. "We didn't have very significant bandwidth pipes between the offices because each office [had its own data center]. If you wanted to get documents from another location, it would take a long time. When we moved to a more regional data center, we wanted to put in a more leading-edge network."

Data center consolidation requires MPLS migration and WAN optimization

The project led to a multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) migration. The new managed MPLS network is built with dual providers in each of Sidley Austin's seven U.S. locations. Otte said the new data center is interconnected with its backup via a metropolitan area network (MAN).

Otte said the MPLS network allowed him to increase his bandwidth at a much lower cost. It also afforded him a degree of agility since MPLS has the ability to integrate voice, video and data on a common backbone. "It positioned us to deploy additional network-based applications globally, such as HD video, UC [unified communications] and VoIP," he said.

The next step in Sidley Austin's data center consolidation project was to optimize its WAN links, especially since the firm makes heavy use of an Interwoven document management system for the transfer of legal documents between firms. Interwoven, which was acquired by the enterprise search vendor Autonomy last year, offers a joint solution with Riverbed that specializes in consolidating data in centralized data centers. Interwoven also integrates tightly with Microsoft Exchange, an application that Riverbed has been accelerating with a specific product module since 2003.

"We're a law firm and we produce a lot of documents," Otte said. The document management system needed to perform as well over the new, consolidated system as it did when each office had its own data center.

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Otte also anticipated that the centralization of his Microsoft Exchange servers would require WAN optimization. In addition, he was looking at a future deployment of voice over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing, which would put a strain on his WAN links.

Given Riverbed Technology's WAN optimization partnerships with both Autonomy and Microsoft, the vendor's Steelhead WAN optimization controllers were an easy choice for Sidley Austin. The law firm has deployed two appliances in each office and its primary and backup data centers, along with single appliances in all of its Asian and European offices. Sidley Austin's overseas offices still have their own individual data centers, but the data center consolidation project will extend to those locations in the near future.

According to Riverbed, Sidley Austin has reduced its bandwidth consumption by 70% with the Steelhead appliances.

"We not only believe that Riverbed [WAN optimization] provides a benefit for the consolidation of data centers. It benefits traffic between our offices as well," Otte said. "Until we get to the point where we have regional data centers in Europe and Asia, it will help in accessing documents from Europe and Asia."

Next on Otte's agenda for his data center consolidation project is a consolidation of his Internet point of presence connections and his Web filtering infrastructure. Currently, each office still has its own Internet connection and legacy Microsoft ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) server. Otte plans to backhaul his Web traffic through his central data center and filter and secure it with a new product. He's currently evaluating several filtering vendors.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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