Case Study: Antarctic research base optimises WAN

Scott Base, a remote New Zealand government research station in Antarctica, has increased the amount of traffic it can send and receive with WAN optimisation.

Scott Base, a remote New Zealand government research station in Antarctica, has increased the amount of traffic it can send and receive with WAN optimisation.

The research station is an outpost of Antarctica New Zealand, the organisation responsible for handling the New Zealand government’s interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The base has a staff of 32 and can support up to 83 visitors at any one time, most of whom are scientists. Antarctica NZ provides logistics and event-planning services to visitors, as well as everyday support such as accommodation, transport, food and IT.

Due to its remote location, Scott Base is highly dependent on a satellite connection provided by Telecom NZ to keep links back to the rest of the world. Mike Mahon, Antarctica NZ’s IT administrator, explains: "The scientists and technicians within the base share scientific data and correspond daily with colleagues back in New Zealand and other countries, and the permanent team out here is dependent on a reliable connection to organise the essential logistics around the base."

Previously, Antarctica NZ had employed a bandwidth management tool to deal with the problems inherent in such a long distance satellite-based WAN. But despite this tool, the organisation was still experiencing bandwidth problems.

Mahon comments: "With residents and visitors so far from home, it is not enough to just prioritise network traffic - often access to webmail and news sites from home is as important as uploading scientific research to an FTP site or accessing our event planning systems back in Christchurch."

The organisation was also running its Microsoft Dynamics logistics application within a server-based Citrix environment. This meant that the permanent site staff were highly dependent on the performance of the WAN to perform their daily jobs - and the WAN was struggling to keep up.

In order to improve network performance, Mahon investigated several WAN optimisation options. After a series of trials, he eventually decided on a solution from Expand Networks. Antarctica NZ is now using 4820 and 4820 accelerators to maximise its 64/256K frame relay satellite connection from Telecom NZ.

The accelerators use low latency, lossless techniques to increase effective bandwidth. Quality of Service (QoS) measures help applications run unimpeded on the WAN. This is not just prioritisation, but also includes algorithms to combat congestion, mark packets for downstream QoS handling and rate control shaping.

Since adopting the two devices, Antarctica NZ has seen an effective increase of bandwidth available across the WAN, making a noticeable impact on the user experience at Scott Base.

Mahon says the combination of compression, acceleration and caching has reduced existing latency issues, in both Citrix and web browsing.

"Despite a 600 ms latency on our satellite link the data speeds we are experiencing are markedly improved, and are now really rather impressive for a 7600 km round trip just to reach the internet connection. Saving $2000 per month on 8 Kb in effective additional bandwidth also gave us an ROI in just four months," Mahon says.

An advantage for the permanent residents at Scott Base has been the improvement in access to the Microsoft Dynamics logistics application delivered via Citrix. This application is central to cargo tracking, event management and the organisation’s internal contacts database. With the WAN optimised, the organisation has seen a 150% increase in the number of concurrent Citrix sessions that the WAN can support.

Web caching has also given visitors to the base closer links to the outside world.

"Scott Base is a long way from normality for a lot of our visitors and accessing news and favourite social networking sites can make the experience a lot less isolated. Caching these commonly accessed sites dramatically speeds up the experience of web users at the base, bringing the real world a little closer," Mahon says.

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