Exinda Networks' WAN Bandwidth Optimization Accelerates Public Library

No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, the “Great Recession” has had a negative impact on every organization’s IT structure as companies struggle with limited resources, increased network demands and a general mandate of doing more with less.

Libraries are no exception and may be in an even tighter squeeze since most are publicly funded and more people rely on them for free access to computers and the Internet in order to maintain email and social networking connections in the hunt for employment. In some cases, however, libraries have managed to maintain IT service levels and even improve patron access to information by implementing wide-area network (WAN) bandwidth optimization networking technology that boosts WAN speeds and efficiencies without putting too much of a burden on stressed budgets.

Ohio’s 167-year-old Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, with 19 locations across the state and a circulation rate of more than 6.5 million volumes each year, did exactly that to get more out of its IT dollars. Despite facing more than $7 million in budget cuts during the recession, the library network has continued to expand programs and computer-based services to patrons.

The backbone behind this push is an Exinda Networks 7700 series WAN bandwidth optimization appliance, installed about 18 months ago — about the same time the recession reared its ugly head. The appliance manages data demands approaching 100 Mbps and improves the flow of information through the 45 servers installed at the library’s central network location and 1,200 computers throughout its system.

“The public will take up as much bandwidth as we give them,” said library IT Director Jeff Wale, noting that high-demand applications range from social computing to streaming video to Web 2.0 collaborative activities.

WAN bandwidth optimization prioritizes applications for critical library business

Naturally, there is a lot of competition for bandwidth, even though the library network maintains fiber connections with its branches and leases bandwidth from a local telecom service provider that feeds back into the library’s private WAN. To avoid bottlenecks, the Exinda Networks WAN bandwidth optimization equipment — which has been upgraded once and gone through a number of software updates — prioritizes applications that are deemed critical to library services.

WAN bandwidth optimization plays a key role, for example, during peak usage times or special events, Wale said. One such event was the inauguration of President Barack Obama, watched by 90% of the people, using an estimated 1,200 computers across the library’s extensive network. “Bandwidth and prioritization on that day was directed to give video streaming a top priority and limit other searches,” Wale explained.

When library officials went shopping for a WAN bandwidth optimization solution, they stumbled on Exinda Networks’ solution through a local value-added reseller (VAR), he said. Administrators were looking at solutions from Packeteer, which has since been acquired by Blue Coat Systems, but they were attracted by the “plug and play” nature of the Exinda Networks solution. They were also sold on the appliance’s ability to prioritize applications and services shooting across a network to pump up such things as video without restricting other content, which might be perceived as a form of censorship in the library world.

“We are squeezing and allocating bandwidth back to patrons, just as a traffic cop might redirect traffic to allow for the passage of an ambulance,” said Wale, who admits there is always a fine line between censorship and bandwidth control.

Library bandwidth demand led to WAN optimizer appliance upgrade

Controlling the ebb and flow of data across a diverse library network is not as simple as it sounds. When the library first used the Exinda Networks system, for example, administrators established certain thresholds and limitations based on their perception of what the network could handle.

At the end of the first week, however, a review of the network traffic data revealed just how wrong their initial perceptions were in terms of user access and data demands. As a result, changes were made and policies shifted to adapt. “It was not what we expected — and quite interesting,” Wale noted.

The library originally opted for the Exinda Networks 6720, which runs from 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps and supports up to 1 million application connections. After a month, however, Wale and his team realized that the library’s demands were pushing the limits of this box and swapped it out for the more powerful 7700 series. Both devices optimize network traffic at the network (Layer 3) and transport (Layer 4) levels.

Aside from its ability to speed data through the library’s extensive data pipeline, the Exinda Networks WAN bandwidth optimization engine also provides valuable strategic information as it manages bandwidth and prioritizes access. A lot of this information is used in planning for future services as Toledo-Lucas, like other libraries, continues its transition from the printed word to electronic content and multimedia.

“The system helps me in planning budgets and making policy changes in anticipation of public trends,” Wale said. “It’s a tool that will continue to be there.”