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The firm's business revolves around AutoCAD drawings--files between 1MB and 50MB in size. For branch office workers, opening a file can take a few minutes, as can saving it back to the main office, says Ray Sirois, Wright-Pierce's IT manager. But if files are copied locally, "then a file revision problem crops up."
Sirois tried many tricks to get around these problems, and they "were pretty slick at the time." But users still weren't happy. "I told them, this is the best I can do; you're asking me to make the sun shine at midnight."
Recently, Sirois began beta-testing the Steelhead 500 appliance, a "transaction acceleration platform" from Riverbed Technology in San Francisco, CA. In place at two of the three branch offices, in a few short months it has "made all the other innovations we had been doing obsolete." (See "
Steelhead speeds up WAN data transmissions through "a fusion of caching, compression and protocol acceleration techniques," says Alan Saldich, Riverbed director of marketing.
The end result, Sirois says, is data access across the WAN at LAN-like speeds. Files that Steelhead hasn't seen before take longer to load, but Sirois says subsequent reads and writes are very fast. Furthermore, with Steelhead, all files reside on the central server, eliminating synchronization problems.
The only downside, Sirois says, is his firm's increased dependence on the WAN. To buffer them from the possibility of a failure, he's installed redundant T1s at each branch office. Going forward, he plans to use Steelhead to replicate the main server at the company's headquarters to a branch office as a makeshift disaster recovery scheme.
This was first published in May 2004