How WAN optimisation is saving lives

The International Justice Mission's payoff for using WAN optimisation is measured not in dollars but human lives.

The International Justice Mission's payoff for using WAN optimization is measured not in dollars but human lives.

The boost in performance that the agency gets out of its Riverbed Steelhead WAN optimization appliances averts enough bandwidth costs to hire investigators, attorneys and aftercare professionals to save 40 people per year from sex trafficking and slavery, says John Lax, vice president of information systems for the IJM. "It's a very different way of looking at the ROI," he says.

NEW ENVIRONMENT: WAN optimization headed to the cloud

The agency, which investigates charges of child sex trading and slavery through 15 field offices around the world and sees them through to prosecution, relies on whatever WAN infrastructure it can get, which often isn't much. For example, the last-mile connection to the office in Uganda is 256Kbps, Lax says. "Really it's more like 64Kbps, and it costs $1,200 per month," he says. "Increasing bandwidth isn't really an option, so the question is, How to get more through the pipe I've got?"

A little more than three years ago, IJM put in the Steelhead appliances, which resulted in an average fivefold improvement in data throughput, he says, which enabled the centralizing of servers in a data center at headquarters in Virginia, he says. When Lax started working at the agency four and a half years ago, each field office had its own Exchange, database and domain controller servers with no one to administer them locally and bandwidth too low to manage them remotely, he says. "Exchange was unmanaged," he says. "We were hoping everything went well."

IJM is experimenting with Riverbed's Cloud Steelhead, which enables putting local field office data into the Amazon.com EC3 cloud storage service where it can be accessed from other locations. Lax says he is interested in this option because the office in Kolkata has been shut down by cyclones, and the technology would allow uploading local data to the cloud and moving staff to another India field office where they could resume work using the data stored in the cloud. This could become a disaster-recovery model for all the offices, he says.

With the relocation of the agency data center from headquarters in Virginia (a half mile from the Pentagon, which was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001) to a safer collocation site in Richmond, Lax is using Riverbed's Whitewater storage appliance. Rather than dump data to tapes, he pushes backup to a separate storage service. The Whitewater gear optimizes the backup data for transfer over the WAN but also encrypts it, making it secure in storage -- an important consideration. If case files were compromised witnesses could be placed danger, Lax says.

Backup times have dropped so much that IJM backs up every day rather than every two weeks, reducing the amount of data that would be lost if the main data center were destroyed, Lax says.

Looking forward, Lax says IJM wants to do more with video, so would like improved optimization for that traffic. But he says ultimately boosting bandwidth to 2Mbps at each office may be the answer.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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