If you ask the average high-speed Internet user what they're looking for in an ISP, they might just sound like the opening credits of the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man: better stronger faster.
Calgary-based Shaw Cable's customers were treated to a dose of better stronger faster with the company's implementation of Network Appliance Inc.'s caching solution.
Recognizing early on that there would be some value in reducing their dependence on @home, Shaw began taking control of their customers' end-user experiences.
One of the biggest problems for Shaw's customers was that Internet users in smaller centers tended to have slower connections. Shaw recognized that moving data closer to the end user would speed up access time, so the company decided to invest in Network Appliance caching devices.
According to Jeff Goldstein, general manager of Network Appliance Canada Ltd., by putting storage devices on the edge of their network in remote points of presence, Shaw enabled its customers to cache locally.
"If your neighbor went to msn.com, the site would be cached locally, so if you also wanted to visit that site, it would be available for you to view from the edge rather than back at the data centre," he said.
Dennis Steiger, Shaw's Calgary-based director of Internet engineering, has found that while most customers don't understand why their service has improved, they recognize that it has.
"The end result is that by going through a proxy server [or caching devices], our users have faster, better downloads. What we're hearing from our customers is that our network's really fast. Well, we haven't done anything with the network -- it's all the proxy servers," Steiger said. "The experience our customers are now presented with is a positive one."
Shaw Cable has invested in 33 C6100s, two C3100s, two C720s, two C1105Bs and six F85s. Its regional data centers, located in Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Kelowna, B.C., each host three to six C6100s, where one cache does nntp caching while the rest do http caching. Shaw also uses a Network Appliance F85 storage filer in each center as the log host for the logs generated by the C6100s.
Loreen Barnett, executive director of the Vancouver-based International Triathlon Union, recently moved her organization's Web site (www.triathlon.org) and Internet service to Shaw, and has noticed dramatic improvements.
"We're very excited at how much easier it is to navigate around our site," Barnett said. "It's definitely faster."
Because it's an international federation, users from around the world frequent the site and Barnett has been hearing nothing but praise for the Web site's improved hosting.
"We've heard from users in Central America and Eastern Europe that the site is much easier to navigate because it loads so much faster," she said.
Aside from happy customers, Shaw has discovered that by using the Network Appliance solutions, the company has reduced its broadband costs.
"Because people aren't downloading the same file over and over again, costs have come down -- there's less redundant material coming through," Steiger said. "The bottom line is we're saving 10 per cent of our broadband traffic by caching locally. That doesn't sound like a lot, but that amounts to a gigabit a second that we're not pulling down, and when you consider that every megabit a second costs from US$100 to $700, that's a substantial amount of money we're saving."
While the investment in the appliances was considerable, Steiger estimates that Shaw will see a return on investment within a year.
According to Goldstein, other Canadian cable companies are interested in Shaw's success, and a few have already adopted a similar strategy.
"All the cable companies in Canada share best practices -- their common enemy is the phone companies, so they're united around how to provide a better quality of service to their customers, and they're pleased with this approach."
Steiger is pleased that Shaw is an early adapter to caching and feels that the investment has quickly become a differentiator for the company.
"High-speed Internet is all about reliability and speed together, and when you've got that it really allows you to drive sales," Steiger said. "Sales are up, and this is all a part of Shaw's success story."