Investment house solves WAN woes

Toronto-based investment firm Richardson Partners Financial may manage more than $5 billion in client assets, but when the company’s wide area network (WAN) began reaching its limits in 2005, Richardson didn’t want to pay a fortune to increase its bandwidth.

Instead, the firm investigated a number of WAN acceleration products before choosing Blue Coat Systems’ SG appliance to cure its bandwidth blues.

Andrew McKinney, Richardson’s director of technical services, focused on both caching and acceleration when looking at vendor systems. But what made Blue Coat stand out was the SG appliance’s SSL support, he said.

“There were other acceleration products out there, but we didn’t feel they addressed the SSL side very well,” he explained. “We do have a fair amount of SSL content and certainly the SSL applications are the ones we generally want accelerated.”

Richardson’s approximately 350 employees operate out of eight offices across Canada. Seven of the offices connect back into the central Toronto site, which also serves as a data centre and the gateway to the Internet.

Robust WAN connections are especially critical to Richardson, because many of the company’s applications are served up by application service providers (ASPs).

Although the firm had dual load balanced and load sharing 3Mbps connections to each office, it wasn’t enough. McKinney began noticing bandwidth problems about a year ago.

“We had sporadic questions from users asking why performance was slower at certain times of the day,” he said. “After investigation we’d find it was a large download or possibly streaming media. People would go to radio stations and keep them on during the day, that kind of thing.”

McKinney considered filtering some of the unnecessary traffic using traditional router and firewall rules.

“But the reality is most streaming applications can go through port 80 or port 443 and it really looks like regular traffic,” he noted. “You can’t stop that through access control lists and ports the same way as you might have been able to in the past.”

McKinney was able to protect the company’s most critical applications, like its IP voice, through traffic prioritization. But he couldn’t use prioritization to save every application.

“Someone could be watching a hockey clip from the game the night before, while another person doing online research for a report would suffer a performance hit because the activities would be treated on the same level,” he said.

After deciding to go with Blue Coat, McKinney installed SG appliances at Richardson’s central site for caching. He’s now rolling the boxes out to additional offices.

The SG appliances handle content caching and allow network managers to set filters based on content, users, applications and protocols.

“Our plan is to have the appliances in key sites — the ones with the largest populations — and we’re midway through that rollout now,” he said. “Eventually the ideal would be we have at least one in every site.”

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