Broadband communications are a boon to a company with large, far-flung operations, but broadband is expensive, and online applications constantly compete for bandwidth with e-mail and other applications operating on wide area networks.
LandAmerica Financial Group (Richmond, Va.; $1.9 billion in assets), a provider of title insurance and real estate transaction services, has the challenge of connecting over 700 offices and 10,000 employees worldwide. The company was spending more than $1 million on bandwidth annually, but many of its offices were experiencing unacceptable application response delays. As a result, productivity suffered and help desk call volume soared, according to Matt Matin, security and systems engineer, LandAmerica.
When Matin was transferred to Land-America's headquarters in 2000, "There were constant bandwidth upgrades, but the demand for more continued [to increase]," he recalls. Matin suggested using a Packeteer (Cupertino, Calif.) hardware and software application traffic management solution that he had found effective at addressing session drop-off problems by users of Citrix (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) clients on PCs at Elliptus Technologies, a LandAmerica subsidiary.
"We had implemented Citrix [at Elliptus] to avoid upgrading bandwidth," Matin explains. Citrix enables PCs to work as thin clients, allowing processing to take place on the server, thus eliminating the need to transfer large files. Citrix clients need a minimum of around 10KB of bandwidth to sustain a session, however, and enough bandwidth was being hogged at Elliptus by other applications to derail sessions, he adds.
Citrix recommended trying Packeteer, Matin recalls. "They brought a demo in and we were able to see what the problem was," he says. Packeteer demonstrated exactly which users were consuming how much bandwidth, and for which applications. In this case, Matin says, "Microsoft's [Redmond, Wash.] NetBIOS network protocol was consuming a large portion of the bandwidth at all times, and the download of large files would consume the rest." Having identified the causes of bandwidth consumption, Packeteer then enabled Elliptus to control bandwidth use. "We created a policy on Packeteer determining that each user get at least 15KB and not exceed 25KB," Matin adds.
When Packeteer was installed at LandAmerica headquarters later in 2000, "The first phase was monitoring network traffic and the second was to shape the traffic consuming the bandwidth to an acceptable level," describes Matin. NetBIOS was a culprit here as well. "We throttled use down incrementally ... and everything worked fine," Matin says.
LandAmerica also applied Packeteer to a replication process between the company's two main data centers in Richmond and Dallas. "As a redundancy measure, terabytes of data were being transferred 24/7," Matin explains. "Filers were always replicating the data, but they couldn't catch up."
Packeteer offered a solution to compress the data being exchanged between the two sites. "We did a test that showed we could save from 30 to 70 percent of bandwidth through compression, so we put two units between the data centers and the filers and started compressing," Matin recalls. "In about four days the filer guys came in and said, 'God bless you!' - all the files were caught up for the first time."
LandAmerica has deployed six Packeteer units, at a total cost of about $200,000 - a prudent investment, given that the company has actually reduced bandwidth since implementation and saved more than $50,000 per month, Matin says. But the more than $600,000 per year LandAmerica saves on bandwidth is only part of the payback, according to Matin. "We used to constantly sit down for hours arguing why there was a problem with the WAN and trying to analyze what was happening on the router," he says. "Now we go on Packeteer for a couple of minutes and we know exactly what's happening."
COMPANY: LandAmerica Financial Group; Richmond, Va.; $1.9 billion in assets.
LINES OF BUSINESS: Title insurance and related transactional services.
VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Packeteer (Cupertino, Calif.) Application Traffic Management solution.
THE CHALLENGE: Improve application performance while reducing bandwidth costs.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio