When the network link between O'Reilly Automotive Inc. and its data center reached its capacity limit, the company didn't buy more bandwidth, as most businesses would. Instead, O'Reilly compressed its data stream.
O'Reilly, an auto parts dealer based in Springfield, Mo., came across a low-cost network service that companies are increasingly turning to: bandwidth optimization. O'Reilly has about 1,100 retail stores, 10 distribution centers and a disaster recovery data center, which is located in Texas.
The company had been using a 12 Mbps link to transport data to the disaster recovery center, but last spring the company began to experience problems with latency. Between point of sales applications, inventory management systems, e-mail and legacy applications, the company was generating 350 million transactions a week, said Mark Garton, disaster recovery team leader at O'Reilly.
The company wanted to ensure that it would lose as little data as possible if the system ever went down, Garton said. A business partner sent O'Reilly to see network optimization vendor Expand Networks Inc.
Expand, based in Roseland, N.J., produces a series of appliances that use standards-based compression to speed the movement of data across networks.
Pedro Colaco, vice president of marketing at Expand, said that the appliances give companies between two and five times more capacity on a wide area network link. With such a drop in congestion, latency improves as well.
Last spring, O'Reilly installed Expand's Accelerator 6810 series appliance. Since then, Garton said, the company hasn't had any problems with link capacity or latency. In fact, it has been able to switch from a nearly full 12 Mbps link to a 6 Mbps link that is only at 50% capacity.
Plus, the company is saving $32,000 annually on bandwidth costs. O'Reilly is currently testing the product for further use on its main network.
Expand leads the bandwidth optimization market. It was the first company in that space in 1998, said Peter Firstbrook, a senior analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group. But the market is still young, and a number of other vendors are now gaining a foothold, including Peribit Networks Inc., Packeteer Inc. and FatPipe Networks Inc.
Each of these companies uses a slightly different approach to optimization, Firstbrook said. For instance, Expand uses standards-based algorithms at layer 7, while Peribit uses an algorithm that was designed to identify patterns in gene sequences.
But these products are not for everyone. Expand charges uses based on throughput, and it costs $2,000 to compress a 128 Kpbs link. Compression of a T3 line costs $45,000.
Firstbrook said that these services often appeal most to those companies with significant bandwidth needs, as well as enterprises that do business overseas, where bandwidth provisioning can often be expensive and time-consuming.