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Water supplier prioritizes apps flowing through its network

USFilter, which bills itself as North America's largest water company, feared its network speed would slow to a trickle unless it could better manage traffic.

Networks are getting overloaded with more and more traffic. Throwing bandwidth at the problem simply doesn't work any more, but a new and more intelligent approach to managing traffic may help.

Scott Bishop, vice president of infrastructure at USFilter Corp., said that his network is now under control, thanks to the ability to shape traffic by giving priority to some applications over others, and by cutting back on bandwidth that is available for personal Web browsing. Without adding bandwidth, many of the network bottlenecks have been fixed.

USFilter, a Palm Desert, Calif., commercial and industrial water supplier, has a large, distributed network. Bishop manages 260 network circuits that are split evenly between frame relay and virtual private networks (VPNs). Traffic congestion on the frame relay circuits was a particularly troubling problem because of the high cost of adding bandwidth, Bishop said.

He began looking for products to help him better manage the network traffic and came across PacketShaper from Packeteer Inc. The Cupertino, Calif.-based network management company is one of the market leaders in traffic shaping.

Many of USFilter's revenue-generating applications run across its network. Bishop manages applications from Oracle Corp., J.D. Edwards & Co., and others. When the network slowed down, salespeople could not process as many orders as they wanted. For USFilter, a slow network leads to a slow revenue stream.

"We can get a good cost-benefit analysis if [because of network problems] it takes someone twice as long as it should to process [an] order," Bishop said.

Packeteer's product identifies different applications on the network and allows network administrators to set priorities for those applications. That way, an invoice will move more quickly than Web-browsing traffic. With the product, IT departments can curtail bandwidth for peer-to-peer file-sharing services -- an increasingly common bandwidth hog -- and ensure that important business traffic gets priority, said Todd Krautkremer, vice president of worldwide marketing for Packeteer.

The new release, PacketShaper Xpress, due out in March, adds another component: compression. Lawrence Orans, a senior analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said the addition of compression makes Packeteer stand out in the market. There are other vendors that offer compression, and some that offer traffic shaping, but he does not know of any that offer both.

Orans said that universities may find the product useful for managing the increasing volume of high-bandwidth file-sharing traffic that is starting to clog their networks. He said companies such as USFilter can also see some benefits, especially those that have links overseas, where bandwidth is expensive, and those that have multiple frame relay connections.

For some companies, the return on investment can be easy to find. With the addition of traffic shaping and selective compression, a company may be able to delay a network upgrade, helping the product to pay for itself quickly, Orans said.

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