Test pilot

Slow access to web-based services is a sore point for many companies and vendors have responded by offering web acceleration appliances as a possible solution. eTQM College recently test piloted one such device, the EX3250 from Redline Networks, and Network Middle East interviewed the College’s IT manager Sameer Khoory to see how it fared.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  May 23, 2005

|~|Sameer_m.jpg|~|eTQM College’s IT manager Sameer Khoory demonstrates how to adjust settings on the Redline EX3250 remotely via a web browser.|~|eTQM College wanted to change the way it deployed its web services in order to save money and boost performance. The elearning firm moved its web services from an outsourced location to the data centre within the company. In a bid to boost performance further and enhance security, eTQM test piloted the Redline Networks EX3250 web acceleration appliance. Note that Redline was recently acquired by Juniper Networks. The college installed the device in its data centre, where it sits between the applications and the network. Its job is to speed up application traffic moving between the internet and the company’s servers, as well as provide a layer of security against port 80 attacks. “We found the device simple to install,” says Sameer Khoory, IT manager of eTQM College. “We had the help of a qualified engineer from systems integrator Olivercom who also gave us some basic hands-on training with the box,” he adds. eTQM reported that the appliance integrated well with its network with one notable exception. The College was happy with its ability to integrate effectively with the web server, Outlook Web Access and any future HTTP or HTTPS application; however, the EX3250 could not handle the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). The College uses this application to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. The Blackboard LMS runs on the Perl programming language, which the appliance is not compatible with. “The first two products worked fine but one drawback of the appliance was that it was not compatible with Blackboard as it uses a different type of coding,” says Khoory. “However, this was not a big issue for us as we had decided to migrate to a new LMS,” he explains. On a more positive note, eTQM observed better performance after installing the device. The College was especially impressed by the ability to perform end user acceleration using the standard compression mechanism in the device and saw end users receiving web pages ten times faster then before the device was installed. The College also considered a software-based website acceleration offering from Microsoft but preferred the hardware-based EX3250. Khoory identified better stability, security and performance as key reasons and was also turned off the Microsoft application because of the need to regularly download and apply patches. Another important plus point for eTQM was the scalability demonstrated by the product. “The EX3250 has a superior Layer 7 load balancing mechanism called Fewest Outstanding Requests, which gives us the ability to group internet information servers (IIS), or take an IIS for maintenance without service disruption. It also allows us to carry out load balancing, so that if one machine is busy it will route traffic to another, thus ensuring continuity of service,” says Khoory. The College was pleased with the options the appliance brings from a security and redundancy point of view. As well as offering protection against port 80 and 443 SSL attacks, it allows redundancy through its server clustering function and fits with the company’s on-going plan to enhance business continuity with a disaster recovery plan. The device also allows the network manager to import security certificates, which means requests don’t have to be relayed to the server for authentication but can be done on the appliance at the edge of the network. This is more efficient for end users accessing eTQM applications and also decreases the workload placed on the company’s servers. After one’s month’s testing, the College was pleased with the performance of the product overall and particularly impressed by the cost savings it facilitated. “After testing the product, we were confident enough to move our applications from the hosting company to our own data centre. From a business point of view, it allowed us to eliminate the costs associated with the hosting company, as well increase security and improve performance,” says Khoory. The company also considered a Cisco IP load-balancing box, but decided that it was too costly. The cost savings provided by the device, added to the discounted price for educational companies offered by Redline proved to be the clincher for eTQM and the College decided to buy the product.||**||

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