WAN optimisation is the Salvation Army's salvation

The Salvation Army has switched WAN optimisation suppliers after finding its previous supplier could not scale to meet its needs.

The Salvation Army has changed WAN optimisation providers, choosing Exinda over Packeteer after the latter vendor could not scale to meet its needs at a price the not-for-profit organisation found acceptable.

The organisation needs WAN optimisation because of its own extraordinary scale. Its 400 regional offices, 70 of connected to its WAN, make heavy use of the Internet to access web-based applications or other tools delivered using Citrix's access technologies. These applications are all mission-critical, either to perform back office functions or to enable service delivery for the organisation's clients who number in the tens of thousands: in a typical week the organisation serves 180,000 meals, provides 20,000 food vouchers, 600 blankets, helps 440 people in the prison and courts system and places 3,500 people in jobs.

"If you go down to our St Kilda Crisis centre, they need to have records about their clients," explains Paul Tero, network manager for the organisation's Southern Territory. "Those records are all and the applications they use to provide services are web-based. Some of our counselling tools are online too."

Access to these applications is particularly important at eight sites called "Territorial Headquarters," large offices with high concentrations of personnel.

As a not-for-profit organisation, the Salvation Army is also faced with the need to be especially watchful of its resources, making WAN optimisation an even more tantalising prospect.

"We have limited resources and bandwidth so we have to make best use of what we have to deliver services to our client groups," explains Paul Tero, network manager for the organisation's Southern Territory.

And those clients are growing in number.

"Over the last ten years or so, Government has been getting out of human services delivery," Tero says. "Organisations like ours like that take up the work so we need to interface with government departments and be professional in everything we do."

WAN optimisation helps by giving Tero tools that help him prioritise different types of traffic on the WAN, so that the organisation's staff have the best possible experience without the need for additional network capacity and associated expenses.

"We think about 'wise stewardship'," Tero says. "We have a four megabits per second pipe and we ask ourselves what is the best way to steward that resource."

An important consideration in that decision is the user experience. "We want to manage users' experience so they do not feel frustrated," Tero says, adding that there is also an efficiency dividend that comes from a faster WAB. "If we can have them doing their particular process in three minutes instead of five you have a more productive field force," which means more services delivered to more clients.

The organisation has therefore decided to prioritise important application traffic, a function it previously trusted to its routers and functions within applications, but eventually decided required dedicated devices.

"We prioritise our Citrix applications," Tero explains. "We give it a percentage of available bandwidth and give it higher priority than printing. Then we allocate another percentage of traffic for web use and so on."

"Our lowest priority is management functions like Active Directory replication, monitoring and SNMP."

Tero says the organisation has now deployed WAN optimisation hardware from Exinda to eight of its Territorial Headquarters, replacing Packeteer devices he said could not cope with traffic increases in a cost-effective manner.

"It was not expandable for the money," he says, leading the Army to change vendors.

Today, Tero believes that the productivity dividend delivered by optimising its WAN is around $8,000 a month, with faster access making the Army's people - including IT staff - more productive.

He now expects that the Army will add new Exinda devices to other offices as it needs to do so and feels that expanding the use of WAN optimisation will not create too much more work for the IT team.

"We can see what is happening on our network and receive reporting about it," he says. "That means we can respond and enforce business categories."

"The rules we apply can be quite complex, but the reporting is good so we can manage."

Read more on WAN performance and optimisation