After one engineering firm installed an Internet telephony system last year, employees complained about the poor voice call quality. The remedy, it turned out, was not to buy more bandwidth, but to be smarter about using the bandwidth the company already had.
Irvine, Calif.-based Hall & Foreman Inc. had hoped to decrease its costs for inter-office calling by moving to a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) system. But once it was installed and call quality failed to meet expectations, Joe Ortiz, director of information technology, feared that he would have to buy separate WAN connections for voice traffic.
He said such a purchase would not only negate the savings his 150-employee company was gaining from the VoIP system, but it would also be too expensive for the small firm.
Ortiz began looking elsewhere for answers, and soon found the Application Traffic Management System from Packeteer Inc. The product, a set of appliances that sit on the LAN side of the WAN connection, analyzes application traffic up to Layer Seven as it leaves the network.
Steve House, Packeteer's senior product manager, said that the system's PacketSeeker appliance can recognize between 500 and 2,000 different applications and the bandwidth they use, depending on the version deployed. The system also includes an appliance called PacketShaper that prioritizes traffic, and an add-on application called PacketShaper Xpress that compresses and accelerates traffic.
Like Hall & Foreman, more businesses are starting to look for products to help them manage their network traffic, thanks in part to increasing deployment of VoIP and video onto IP networks, said Jerald Murphy, a senior vice president with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.
Though VoIP is still gaining momentum, Murphy said most Fortune 500 businesses are testing the technology for deployment in the coming years. Not only do voice and video take up additional bandwidth, but they also force the network to meet much more stringent demands.
"Voice traffic is more sensitive to the quality of the data network," Murphy said. "It is going to be necessary to do this type of bandwidth management in order to put all of a business' calls on an IP network."
After implementing Packeteer's system, Ortiz's first step was to examine existing network traffic patterns to find out why voice quality was suffering.
Ortiz found that employees were using bandwidth intensive peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, as well as streaming video on the network. Additionally, he found that one employee was spending hours each day instant messaging his girlfriend. He cut off or restricted access to these applications, freeing up more space for voice and other important applications.
Ortiz was then able to use Packeteer's system to prioritize application traffic according to the application's business value. Voice was given the highest priority, followed by bandwidth intensive CAD applications and accounting systems.
That is a key step in making sense of WAN traffic, said Murphy. With a product such as Packeteer's, IT administrators can view real-time data flow, reprioritize applications and then evaluate the results, fine-tuning as often as necessary.
With a view into the network, one can make better decisions about how to prioritize traffic, Murphy said.
Ortiz also compressed his traffic over the WAN, giving him a 30% increase in speed. Additional functions can be added through software add-ons, though compression requires an appliance at both ends for encoding and decoding.
Pricing starts at $2,250 for the model 1550 supporting a 128kbps link, and extends to $55,000 for a model 9500 supporting Gigabit Ethernet.
Ortiz expects the Application Traffic Management System to pay for itself in 10 months. Ortiz is assuming savings based on the fact that he no longer needs to purchase additional bandwidth. Part of the savings will also come from increased productivity.