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Traffic to remote offices eases up

Brighter days are ahead for remote office workers

If users at your remote offices are complaining about how long it takes to open files over the WAN, happier days are in store for you, as vendors large and small are making this problem a priority.

"We had users who had given up on opening certain files," says Josh Lamont, director of information technology at Novum Pharmaceutical Research Services in Pittsburgh. It would routinely take users in Novum's Houston and Las Vegas offices four to five minutes to open a simple office document, Lamont reports, and often, "it would time out altogether."

Novum looked at various file replication technologies, but after doing some Web research, decided to try out Tacit Networks' IShared, a Wide Area File Services (WAFS) platform aimed at reducing the bandwidth limitations and latency inherent in wide-area data transmissions. Generally speaking, WAFS products improve the user experience at the remote office through a combination of technologies such as data reduction, compression, protocol optimization and caching.

Novum dropped IShared into its network in about a day and saw an immediate improvement in file access times. Transfers that used to take four to five minutes now take three to four seconds to open if they're "warm" in the IShared cache, or between 30 to 45 seconds for the first "cold" access, Lamont reports. "Users were elated," he says.

Tacit has also gotten the nod from Brocade, which last month announced an OEM version of IShared as the new Tapestry WAFS appliance. Furthermore, Microsoft is promoting a new set of services Tacit announced last month for IShared--IShared Exchange, IShared Web Services and IShared Management Services--as an elegant way to deal with remote offices.

"They fit in with Microsoft's view of the remote office," says Chuck Foley, Tacit's president. "They want it built on Microsoft platforms." With IShared Exchange, companies can remove or forestall implementing Exchange at remote sites. IShared Web Services accelerates Web-based apps and IShared Management

Services turns the appliance into an SMS distribution point for faster application updates and installs.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) entered the WAFS fray in May with the introduction of its StorageWorks Enterprise File Services (EFS) WAN Accelerator, which it licenses from Riverbed Technology. The EFS WAN Accelerator runs on an HP ProLiant server and reportedly reduces WAN traffic between 60% and 95%. Cisco also has a WAFS product, File Engine, which it began shipping earlier this year.

But for some, merely reducing WAN latency isn't good enough--their remote office users want local access speeds and nothing less will suffice. Wardrop Engineering is a 600-person firm in Toronto, with offices across North America and practice groups that span those locations. The firm's work is also highly collaborative, so it "can't have people making changes without the changes being made on the other side," says William Ip, Wardrop's CIO.

Wardrop has chosen to out-and-out replicate its active files using Availl's Multi-Directional WAFS. Because files are replicated, WAN latency isn't a concern, as whatever file you're accessing is by definition local. Byte-level differencing keeps bandwidth down, and the application also provides real-time file locking.

However, the Availl solution won't appeal to all customers, says Arun Taneja, founder of Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA--especially those with a lot of data to replicate. "Availl is making the fundamental assumption that storage is, for all intents and purposes, free," he says. Wardrop fits that model nicely, as it only replicates approximately 300GB of active data--old project data is removed from the primary file server and archived using hierarchical storage management, says Ip.

Taneja also thinks the number of users who require local access speeds is relatively small. "What is fast enough?" says Taneja. "You and I, we don't care if it's 10 milliseconds or 150 milliseconds--we measure response time in human time. As long as it feels and looks instantaneous, it's probably an adequate solution."

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