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School system gives Web caching high marks

A large school system in North Carolina is using Network Appliance's Web caching software to improve network performance and block students from accessing inappropriate content. An analyst says Web caching technology can benefit a broad range of companies.

The Wake County public school system in Raleigh, N.C., had a problem. Demand for Internet access was outstripping its network-wide Web caching system, and complaints were flooding the network systems office.

The school district's network -- with 125 schools and 104,000 students -- handles as many as 2.5 million Web page requests an hour. As the number of computers on the network and students using them has increased, demand for bandwidth has nearly doubled.

The district had been using Squid, an open-source Web proxy caching software, on four Sun Microsystems Inc. servers. Vass Johnson, director of network systems for the school district, said that he couldn't keep pace with demand, he could not generate the kind of reports he needed, and Web site blocking -- the practice of shielding students from inappropriate material on the Web -- had to be done during off-hours.

Johnson began looking for a new caching product, and he found one that solved many of his most pressing problems. The NetCache C6100 from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based storage vendor Network Appliance Inc. allowed him to centralize his back-end system, moving from the four Sun servers to a single box with a backup.

Since installing the Network Appliance product a year ago, Johnson says, it has been virtually trouble-free. Today, the school district's network performance is able to keep up with user demands, Johnson said. And it can be administered with a simple Web interface.

"I don't have to employ a dedicated Unix administrator. Those guys are pricey," Johnson said.

In addition, the NetCache C6100 is bundled with Secure Computing Corp.'s SmartFilter, detailed content filtering software.

Johnson can block sites at any time, and he do so with specificity -- blocking access from a specific user's PC or group of PCs. That kind of granularity is important, he explained, because material that may be appropriate for a 12th grader may not be something that first grade students should be looking at.

Edward Sharp, director of marketing for Network Appliance's content delivery business unit, added that the device can be helpful in scanning for viruses, since all Internet traffic is moving through one point before it enters the network.

The device is also designed to allow companies to distribute content such as video over a network while using less bandwidth, Sharp said. Video can be cached at a remote office so users access the content from the local cache instead of across the WAN link.

While caching has been around for some time, it is a technology that is becoming increasingly beneficial as more applications move to the Web and companies begin to use more video, said Lawrence Orans, a principal analyst for Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm.

A broad range of companies stand to benefit from caching, Orans said, including retail stores that run Web-based video advertisements and large corporations that distribute video for e-learning or corporate announcements. Caching can also be helpful for companies with many remote offices and centralized businesses looking to save on their infrastructure investments.

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