Cancer Society accelerates Web apps

The Canadian Cancer Society is installing Web application acceleration hardware in 40 of its branch offices and a management device at its Toronto head office in an effort to give employees quick access to centralized files and software.

See also: Eight steps to lightning-fast Web applications

The non-profit organization, which raises funds for cancer research and provides support services for patients, has 40 offices in Ontario which are networked through the Internet over Bell Canada’s digital subscriber line (DSL) service. Two years ago, a security audit noted each office had its own file server, which also functioned as a personal computer, said Gerry Holmes, IT Director for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario division.

Although branch office workers were backing up their data, there were no RAID systems and the network was deemed insecure to the privileges granted to users of the PCs that also functioned as servers.

The organization’s IT department was faced with a choice of either installing a server in each branch office or centralizing IT resources in its head office – in which case, DSL service alone would not provide adequate response times. In the end, the Canadian Cancer Society chose to centralize its file and print servers, and to speed up the wide-area network, by installing Steelhead Web acceleration appliances manufactured by Riverbed Technology Inc. of San Francisco.

The small offices – most of which have five to 10 people — have the Steelhead 100, which has a WAN capacity of 1 Megabit per second and handles 25 TCP connections. Offices with more than 20 people have the Steelhead 200 model, which also has a WAN capacity of 1 Mbps but handles up to 100 TCP connections. Holmes said Some of the larger offices got the Steelhead 520, which handles up to 300 TCP connections.

In its Ontario division head office in Toronto, the Canadian Cancer Society has installed Riverbed’s Central Management Console, which configures and monitors the Steelheads at the branch offices.

The Steelheads use theRiverbed Optimization System (RiOS) to reduce data transport delays by accelerating secure sockets layer (SSL) traffic, reducing application overhead in TCP traffic and reducing the number of packets in data.

The society uses a Citrix-based system to run its own customer relationship management (CRM) application, plus Office software over the network.

At press time, the Canadian Cancer Society had installed 10 Steelheads and Holmes predicts most – if not all — of the remaining 30 will be installed by Christmas. The organization spent $275,000 on the hardware, and installing file servers at each location would have cost about the same amount, Holmes said. But he added it would have cost much more to maintain and support a file server at each location – at least $3,000 per year per site — especially with some located in remote regions of Northern Ontario. Holmes said he would also have to hire one additional IT person to help manage the system.

When Holmes’s staff sent a Steelhead box to the Brampton, Ont. office, the workers were able to connect it to the DSL gateway and the office local-area network without a visit from IT staff, Holmes said.

The Canadian Cancer Society had considered options other than the Riverbed products. One option under consideration was a wide-area network from Toronto-based service provider TELoIP. Holmes also considered buying application acceleration products from Cupertino, Calif.-based Packeteer Inc. In the end, he chose Riverbed in the end because it did not require a change of routing protocols.

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