On January 22, 1984, Apple stunned the world with its Super Bowl commercial “1984”. That commercial was designed to introduce the original Apple Macintosh computer. The commercial was not intended to be a political commentary, but as explained by the commercial’s creative director Lee Clow, it was about “Apple wanting the Mac to symbolize the idea of empowerment, with the ad showcasing the Mac as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality.”
Fast forward to today and many CIOs have to deal with the conformity of thought from their service providers that to run more applications across their WAN, they just have to buy more bandwidth. And when more applications come, just buy even more.
But rather than simply conform to the “buy more bandwidth” philosophy, what alternatives do IT leaders have? How can CIOs take more control over their WANs and ensure network resources are fully utilized?
The good news is, there are other options. For example, you can buy hardware and software from today’s network equipment suppliers equivalent to 1984’s “Big Blue” to try to manage the bandwidth usage. That equipment can be costly and does not economically deploy across large-scale networks. You can also try to fine-tune your static MPLS class-of-service policies. However, every time they need to be changed, you have to go through your service provider’s MAC process. Another possibility is to install separate Internet circuits and try to implement load balancing and policy-based routing (PBR) on a location-by-location basis. But managing PBR policies is a daunting task when you have hundreds of locations with different WAN connections. Finally, WAN optimization hardware can be used – but the expense to deploy that type of technology across hundreds of locations has to be factored into cost-benefit analysis.
A fully empowered CIO needs a solution that provides three fundamental capabilities in a cost-effective manner:
- A single point for complete visibility on what applications are running across a WAN and how these applications are utilizing the available bandwidth. CIOs need in-depth understanding of their application ecosystem. This requires full visibility on application usage and quality of performance. Are these applications performing to the key quality indicators for that type of application? Are there one or two applications that are causing congestion on the WAN access? Is there a time-of-day pattern to usage demands? Are there non-essential or “recreational” applications taking over a disproportionate percentage of the WAN bandwidth? This information has to be captured and presented in a way that makes it clear what actions have to be taken.
- A tool to dynamically adjust network behavior and resources to the exact application traffic demand. Once the CIO has visibility, what can they do to optimize their current bandwidth usage? The tool should be able to set application performance objectives, including a minimum bandwidth for each application session and a criticality level used for prioritization. The tool has to continuously monitor conditions across the entire WAN – computing bandwidth availability and application demand – and then act locally on traffic flows to prevent network congestion globally.
- The means to balance traffic to and from a site over two or more network access points. The solution should support multiple network combinations like dual MPLS access, dual service providers, MPLS + Ethernet or MPLS + Internet. This tool should identify in real-time all of the application flows that cross the network. Contrary to PBR mechanisms, which are limited to Layer 3 and 4 analyses, analysis of traffic at Layer 7 is required to identify the patterns of the application flows. Then application flows can be continuously classified based on their performance objectives with network path preferences centrally defined for each application.
For business and IT leaders to deliver the most optimal experience for their customers, conformity simply isn’t an option. At EarthLink we’re working to perfect application performance optimization for our business customers. You’re invited to share your experiences, challenges and successes around control of your WAN, and maximizing application performance on your business networks in the comments area below.
And check back in soon – in my next post I’ll share how EarthLink approaches application performance optimization and the three capabilities that are required for a CIO to take control of the WAN.
By overcoming network obstacles and adopting more innovative technologies that help consistently deliver a more integrated and connected customer experience.