Oil company uses WAN optimisation technology to control network traffic

Independent oil and gas exploration and production company Tullow Oil has implemented WAN management technology. Tullow’s CIO, Andrew Marks explains issues his company faced, and how WAN management technology was the answer.

With a WAN that services 1,500 people in 22 countries on multiple continents, and runs applications such as VoIP and Citrix, London-based Tullow Oil had a problem: it needed good network performance, and it wasn't getting it. The answer to the problem, the company found, was in WAN optimisation technology.

“My team would receive regular complaints from end-users, frustrated with the responsiveness of the network when working with business critical applications. Network performance was hampering our productivity, and I knew we had to take rapid action,” explains Tullow's CIO Andrew Marks.

Tullow, an independent oil and gas exploration and production company, has ten sites connected via Internet VPNs, while its three main sites in London, Dublin and Cape Town are connected to an MPLS network. Tullow had invested a lot of money into its WAN, but it had become  difficult to see the benefits of those investments because it was unclear as to what was actually running on the networks.

Marks and his team realised  they needed a technology to provide traffic management and application performance guarantees, and to give visibility into network usage. It was also important to have something which could be quickly deployed worldwide to support an expanding business.

Tullow chose a system from Ipanema Technologies, implemented as a managed service by Ipanema’s partner, Intergence Systems. One of the selling points was Ipanema's Hybrid Network Unification technology, which allows Tullow to evenly distribute network traffic flows between sites. That means Tullow's IT team can manage traffic across multiple network links according to the individual objectives of each application and availability of bandwidth on each path.

More importantly, the Ipanema technology allows Marks' team to properly plan and manage the network. “Now we can go and find out exactly what is happening, rather than just guessing,” he says. “One example is that at one site everyone was complaining about the slowness of the network. We looked at the reports and were able to see that a vast majority of bandwidth was being used up by only a few staff and for non-business purposes.” Tullow can now identify which applications are most bandwidth-hungry at each site, and determine the importance of each -- either high, medium or low. In some cases, certain recreational applications were blocked to free up network resources for higher priority traffic.

Ipanema has also been used to configure failover links. If a particular site's primary link fails, traffic is automatically re-routed onto the lower bandwidth secondary link, with the system re-prioritising traffic so that the most important applications are still carried first.

This WAN optimisation technology has also hugely improved Tullow's VoIP sessions, even when running over Internet links. Diagnosing performance issues between Kampala and Cape Town allowed VoIP calls to increase from Mean Opinion Score (MOS) 2.8 to MOS 3.9. As a result, average call lengths increased from under five minutes to 30 minutes.

Tullow's Livelink-based document management system, called Phoenix, has also benefited from this technology with traffic down 78%. That means end users get faster access, making Phoenix more responsive and usable, especially over high-latency satellite links or lower bandwidth connections.

What's more, the network reporting enables Tullow to be more financially efficienct with bandwidth. Tullow can now assess the performance of its local ISPs and network service providers and see when bandwidth upgrades are needed. This is particularly valuable in Africa, where bandwidth is expensive and an unnecessary upgrade is a costly mistake.

Marks adds, “Ipanema enabled us to deliver the required business performance and to allow reasonable personal use too. The end result is that our users enjoy a predictable, reliable and consistent experience.”

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