Ecessa Says Businesses Bonding Low-End Broadband for WAN Optimization

Monday Oct 19th 2009 by Ted Stevenson

WAN optimization vendor says businesses are turning to multiple, low-end broadband connections to improve throughput and reliability.

Plymouth, Minn.-based Ecessa, a vendor of WAN link optimization (read 'network load balancing') technology for small and medium-size enterprises, has recently become aware of a novel usage trend within certain segments its customer base:

A number of companies are deploying the company's PowerLink equipment for the purpose of bonding together multiple low-cost broadband Internet connections in order to gain improved throughput performance in making large file transfers between branch offices.

A typical case in point is Ecessa customer Providence Engineering, which is using PowerLink to bond two separately provisioned T1 connections into a single virtual connection with approximately 3Mbps throughput capacity. Providence requires this level of throughput to handle the task of moving large CAD and other graphical files between locations—as well as backing up such files to a central location, Ecessa spokesman Marc Goodman told Enterprise Networking Planet.

"We're finding that the use of our products for channel bonding—over the last year or two—has been growing dramatically," Goodman reported. And the point of departure for most customers, he indicated, is "increasing bandwidth to support larger applications going across the Internet—to deliver them quickly."

This obvious benefit of channel bonding is being enjoyed by several different kinds of firms. In addition to engineering and graphic design businesses whose bulky graphical files are hungry for bandwidth, Ecessa has a number of "healthcare customers that are sending MRI files or large X-Ray files," Goodman said. He also mentioned advertising and PR firms, hotel chains, and the banking/financial sector.

However, the benefits go far beyond just access to greater throughput. Ecesssa maintains that using multiple moderate-cost broadband connections in place of single, higher-capacity dedicated links not only dramatically lowers the overall cost of connectivity, it's also inherently more reliable.

With an organization's total site-to-site IP WAN traffic shared among several generic broadband links—as opposed to dedicated (private) T1, DS3, or frame relay connections—customers have built-in redundancy. There is no single point of failure, and transmissions can continue even if one connection should go down.

This is especially vital for the healthcare segment. HIIPA regulations require strict security—which generally means using a VPN tunnel when moving imaging or other data across the network. PowerLink's bonding capability provides session failover for VPN transmissions. "If one of the WAN links were to fail, they don't even lose VPN session," Goodman explained.

Another factor contributing to the growing uptake of channel bonding, according to Ecessa's vice president of sales, Jason Breyer, is the broader trend of server virtualization and cloud computing.

"That actually drives the need for our functionality more so," Breyer told Enterprise Networking Planet, "because what we're seeing is that small businesses are taking advantage of this virtualization or cloud computing. Their stuff doesn't reside on site.

"Traditional wide-area-networking gets kind spendy, and they're looking for alternative ways to take advantage of these ISP connections that are coming down in price. We allow them to go to a situation where they're doing site-to-site communications through public WAN links," Breyer said.

"With public, ubiquitous Internet connections, you can get better performance and save money, compared with the historic, traditional frame relay networks," he concluded.

So, save how much money, exactly? Breyer issued the obvious disclaimer: "It's very hard to say what's typical, because there's such a variety." But he went on to outline an illustrative scenario postulating an organization with a main headquarters and two satellite offices:

"With traditional frame relay networks, they're probably spending between $600 and $800 per month per line (i.e., from HQ to each branch)," he said. "We'll come in with our PowerLink, and they'll buy multiple broadband connections, at maybe $60, $70, $80 a month." Even factoring in the cost of the hardware ($3,000 to $4,000 at headquarters and $1,500 to $3,000 at each remote site, Breyer estimated) you're looking at a savings of $300 or $400 a month—possibly more.

"And," Breyer hastened to reiterate, "although these broadband Internet connections don't have the kind of SLAs associated with dedicated lines, we'll not only improve overall reliability [as explained above], we'll improve their speed with the site-to-site channel bonding, because we combine the speeds on each end."

This, as Breyer explained, is done by creating a GRE [generic router encapsulation] bonded tunnel. "We go from being a session-based load balancer to being a packet-based load balancer—we're sending packets over both connections. We combine the connection speeds of all the local broadband links and do packet-based aggregation at that point—using all the connections—to achieve greater speed." And he threw in a reminder that "if one of the WAN links were to fail, they don't even lose VPN session—because we're a packet-based load balancer in that case."

Breyer went on to point out that, where available, one of the broadband links could be wireless (WiMAX, LTE, or 4G), and not subject to the "backhoe" vulnerability (i.e., physical disruption of a wired connection). "We have a lot of success with that," he said, "and our customers love that diversity."

In closing, Marc Goodman jumped in with an instance of what we might call the unintended beneficial consequences of implementing channel-bonded WAN links: the enabling of centralized backup and disaster recovery solutions—which involve the transfer of massive amounts data between sites.

"A lot of companies are finding with solutions like ours that disaster recovery has changed from being something they thought was out of their reach to something they can easily accomplish," he said. "A solution like ours can really make the performance of thing like backups and replication between sites go very smoothly. "

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