Torrent of traffic tamed by WAN optimisation

Student accommodation service International Student House has saved bandwidth and tamed the peer-to-peer menace with thanks to WAN optimisation.

When Tony Wise, Managing Director of an accommodation service for students of Monash University in Melbourne, decided to offer his clients Internet access, it turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected.

Wise initially installed an ADSL link and a WiFi router, and let the students sign-up for the service, and he was hoping to include VoIP so that his customers could enjoy cheap phone calls to their mostly overseas families. He started with a 1500/512 Kbps link and soon discovered that wasn't anywhere near enough bandwidth.

So he upgraded to ADSL2+ which gave him 18Mbps, but the students instantly consumed the entire bandwidth by downloading all sorts of things including copyrighted material. After some firewall fiddling he also learned that peer-to-peer services can be quickly adapted to dodge port filtering and will continue to consume all the available bandwidth. "It actually got worse," said Wise. "I thought how can this be? I've multiplied the bandwidth by over ten times and it's actually worse than it was before."

Wise also got told by his ISP about the volume of peer-to-peer traffic and was given a strong hint that this wasn't a situation that could be allowed to continue. "It was a sort of a cat and mouse game, where I'd take some action and these programs would morph around whatever action I took," said Wise. "I had 100GB monthly allowance and it was being used in about two weeks, and my other concern was the cost of providing the service - I wanted to offer a value-added service, at a reasonable price, only charging the students $22 per month. The legitimate users were complaining and the ones who were hogging it didn't worry about it much - it was an unfair system."

After talking to a few colleagues Wise decided that Blue Coat's WAN optimisation product might offer a solution to the problem. "I did a bit of research and I saw that they were pretty good at proxying," said Wise. "I thought that will save me money on the bandwidth, but that's probably not a huge amount of money." Blue Coat does indeed provide a proxy service with a large cache but the stateful packet inspection proved to be just the ticket to block the unwanted traffic, releasing the bandwidth for legitimate users.

"Overall, there are a whole lot of benefits for me and there are benefits for the legitimate users," said Wise. "It's allowed me to do some prioritisation, too, so I've now added voice over IP, as a service - and it works. VoIP was only a small additional cost for Wise but his customers really appreciate being able to make affordable long distance calls to their families, and before he installed the Blue Coat device it just wasn't feasible. "Now, I just don't get any complaints at all."

Of course everything has a price including Blue Coat's appliances but Wise wasn't fazed by the cost. "It was under $3000, so it was cheap enough to justify as it pays for itself in less than six months," said Wise. Although Blue Coat devices can be configured by end users, Wise paid for a remote setup, to make sure everything was done properly. "I just gave them a set of parameters - it didn't take them long," said Wise. "I just got it going to the point where someone could login remotely and told them what I wanted and they did it."

The design of the Blue Coat SG200 means that if it ever fails, Wise's students don't lose their Internet access. "If there's a power failure, it just becomes like a piece of wire," said Wise. And since his customers have now learned that his network is only for legitimate use, Wise is reasonably sure they won't immediately swamp the open link with peer-to-peer traffic before a replacement device is installed. "I was pretty happy with that," said Wise.


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