Software helps Perini end WAN slowdown

When users at Perini in Framingham, a global construction company, complained early this year about slow performance using critical project management software, IT managers scratched their heads and conducted a little detective work.

"Truthfully, when people say the Internet is slow, you have no idea what's going on," Perini IT director Kim Holden said last week. "There are a lot of finger-pointing exercises."

More than 250 Perini workers at corporate headquarters use project management software called Expedition, which is hosted by LoadSpring Solutions, an application services provider in Lawrence, on servers accessed over T1 links in a WAN. "With third-party hosting, you're never sure if the problem is on their end, so you have to eliminate some of the causes and make sure you're not just shooting in the dark," Holden said.

Perini's small IT staff looked first at intrusion-detection software, then eyed packet shaping to improve network performance. The Expedition application itself is widely used in the construction industry and wasn't considered the culprit.

The IT staffers then investigated a few traffic management software products, eventually choosing Converted Traffic Manager (CTM) from Converged Access.

Holden said she liked the Converged Access philosophy: to help create traffic categories based on a company's business priorities.

The software, installed in August for less than US$10,000, helped categorize the priority of WAN traffic as high, medium and low based on Perini's input on what were the most critical traffic streams, Holden said. E-mail was judged to be the highest, along with voice over IP (VoIP) between Framingham and other Perini offices around the world. File Transfer Protocol traffic was judged to be medium-low, with the lowest priority given to user access to Internet radio sites.

"We discovered people were listening to radio online more than I thought and that was taking most of the traffic," she said. After CTM software relegated Internet radio traffic to a low priority, performance dropped -- and so did the number of people listening to it.

"I didn't have to slap anybody's hands and say, 'No, you can't listen to Internet radio,'" she said. In fact, she never had to tell anybody what was happening because the users simply stopped using Internet radio when performance lagged.

"Boy, we haven't heard a boo from anybody since CTM was put in place, and the user community is just not calling us with complaints that it took 20 minutes to enter information in the project management software," Holden said.

Next year, Perini is considering using other Converged Access products to compress VoIP traffic between global offices, especially between Iraq and Afghanistan and several U.S. offices, she said.

The market for WAN traffic management is growing, since customers can see sizable results from a relatively small investment, said Matthias Machowinski, an analyst at Infonetics in California. The market for such products is small compared to the overall routing market, and is worth in the "low hundreds" of millions of dollars annually, Machowinski said.

In addition to Converged Access, other vendors in the space include Packeteer; Allot Communications; Expand Networks; Peribit Networks, which was recently purchased by Juniper Networks in California; and Swan Labs, which was recently purchased by F5 Networks.

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