Accelerate network access in remote offices

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Accelerate network access in remote offices
This article first appeared on Best in UC. It seems like a more efficient use of everyone’s time. But document sharing technologies actually create a host of new challenges in the enterprise, both for users and the network. The benefits of share-centric systems are clear. Workers can all access a document and make changes to it, ensuring version control and the preservation of changes by various authors. This improves efficiency and makes information ubiquitous throughout the team and the organization. But at the same time, sharing information can overload a company’s bandwidth – especially at branch offices. In many cases, these satellite facilities are in far-flung locations that may not have access to the super-fast fiber connections that make watching video or downloading large PowerPoint presentations a snap. Rather, branch offices may be accessing their central office’s VPN via a T1 connection. In recent years, most organizations have pulled back from the practice of maintaining significant IT infrastructure at satellite offices. It simply cost too much to build and maintain the servers at multiple locations. Instead, most companies are finding it more cost-effective and efficient to keep all IT resources in a single location at corporate headquarters. That results in high availability and easy access – as long as your WAN and local data connections can perform. Just a few years ago, a T1 line provided decent speed for most branch offices. That’s because most of corporate America was relying on the Internet primarily for email. Things have changed dramatically in just the last 12 to 18 months, and as more time passes, bandwidth-intensive web applications will become the norm. So how’s an organization to deal with this “new normal” of high-bandwidth apps at low-bandwidth satellite offices? One of our vendors, SonicWALL, has developed a new line of products designed specifically to accelerate performance of the wide-area network, which greatly benefits users in distant geographic locations. The SonicWALL WAN Acceleration Appliance (WXA) solves several of the challenges that file sharing creates. In the simplest terms, SonicWALL dramatically reduces network traffic by transmitting only new or changed data – not entire files. Imagine a satellite office in a rural location that relies on a T1 line to connect to corporate headquarters. What if five members of the sale team are trying to download a graphics-intensive PowerPoint presentation simultaneously? They could each waste much of the afternoon waiting for the file to complete its journey to their laptop. That’s why the WAN acceleration appliance actually caches traffic that flows over the WAN. In the above example, the first time that the presentation file is downloaded, it’s cached by the WXA. Then, each subsequent user can quickly and easily retrieve the file – without reaching out over the WAN to the home office. There are other companies that have created similar devices. The WXA, however, is designed with a couple of twists that make it more effective. First, the WXA sits to the side of the firewall, rather than being in line with the firewall. Why does this matter?
  • When competitor products are in-line with the firewall, they are looking at data that has already been compressed and optimized. As a result, data is simply let through without being inspected.
  • If there is a problem with a competitor’s in-line device, it slows down the entire WAN or even becomes the equivalent of a cut wire.
  • Both of these problems defeat the entire purpose of an acceleration device, which is to optimize data going through the Internet connection and making it take less bandwidth.
The SonicWALL WXA sits off to the side of the firewall. There, it can inspect data before it is optimized. In addition, if it becomes overwhelmed or inoperable, the firewall knows that the WXA has become maxed out and send requests to the VPN without going through the WXA. The result? Remote users enjoy faster WAN performance with safe, clean files free of security hazards. And that T1 line isn’t such a barrier to work anymore.

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