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3SOFT, a leading provider of standard software solutions, needed a faster way to collaborate between its four sites in Germany and Japan. The technology company wanted to overcome the speed limitations of the high latency low bandwidth WAN links.


IN BRIEF

Industry

  • Technology (Software)

Challenges

  • Enable inter-office collaboration across high latency low bandwidth WAN links
  • Consolidate remote office file servers and backup systems

Solution

  • Deployment of Riverbed SteelHead appliances at the headquarters and each branch office

Benefits

  • Up to 99 percent reduction in data transferred over the WAN
  • Large file transfer times reduced from several hours to a few minutes
  • Local servers and backup systems eliminated without affecting onsite productivity

Since its inception in 1988, Erlangen-based 3SOFT GmbH (www.3soft.de), a member of the Finnish  Elektrobit Group since March 2004, has made a name for itself as a leading provider of standard software solutions for embedded systems (microprocessors that control the electronic devices in which they’re embedded). 3SOFT provides products and services that operate and monitor such devices.

Over the years, the company has developed a strong focus on the automotive, medical systems, and industrial automation sectors. 3SOFT’s customers include the market leaders in these industries: Alpine, Audi, BMW, Bosch (Blaupunkt), ContiTemic, DaimlerChrysler, Fresenius Medical C are, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, Hella, Porsche, Siemens A&D, Siemens Med, Siemens VDO, Visteon, VW, ZF Lenksysteme etc. The company currently has around 300 regular employees on its payroll.

Challenge: Enabling Collaboration for Inter-Office Client Teams

3SOFT’s IT infrastructure currently spans four sites: 3 in Germany — Erlangen (the company’s head office), Braunschweig, and Stuttgart — and an office in Tokyo, Japan. An additional site, Munich, is in the pipeline. The German sites communicate with the head office in Erlangen over a 10 Mbps wide area network (WAN). Stuttgart has a 6 Mbps connection. The Tokyo site currently has a 512 kbps line that is soon to be upgraded to 2 Mbps.

In the past, local file servers and backup systems were deployed at each site. By way of central corporate resources, Erlangen has two high-capacity file servers (complete with a backup solution), plus the company’s entire Exchange infrastructure which is already centralized.

To date, however, data always had to be backed up locally at each branch office, as this could not be done over the WAN, nor was it possible to use the local file servers. 3SOFT’s staff often works on source code that runs into the hundreds of megabytes, so WAN-based access to the central server would have taken too long and consumed too much bandwidth. A local infrastructure was especially vital for the Tokyo site, where data transmission was subject to considerable latency due to the vast distance.

The option of a terminal server infrastructure was ruled out from the start, as many employees frequently had to access and process data from notebooks during visits to customers. This requirement could not be accommodated by a terminal server solution.

“We were able to eliminate the local servers and backup system without affecting on-site productivity.”

Solution: Steelhead Appliances Enable Remote Collaboration and Consolidation

MIT Technology GmbH, a service provider that specializes in storage solutions, recommended Steelhead appliances from Riverbed to improve application performance over the WAN, and enable infrastructure consolidation. Robert Holzwarth, IT Chief at 3SOFT, seized the opportunity and requested a test installation. Stuttgart was chosen as the venue for the pilot project. Within just a few weeks, convincing results quickly paved the way for a seamless transition from test installation to productive operation.

Deploying the Steelhead appliances could not have been easier. The basic configuration was ready in about 15 minutes. The Steelhead appliance itself was then sent to Stuttgart, where a local member of staff had no trouble hooking it up and going live.

“The Steelhead appliances slashed as much as 99% off the volume of data transferred.”

Ultimately, you never know how useful an IT solution will be until you see it working under real-world conditions. On that score, the Steelhead appliances convinced us 100 percent. We were able to deactivate the local servers and the backup system without affecting on-site productivity,” said Holzwarth. “The Steelhead appliances slashed as much as 99 percent off the original volume of data transferred when we accessed the CVS repositories, which is where source codes are kept for the software developers to work on. With other protocols, volumes were reduced by an average of 75 percent.”

3SOFT subsequently deployed Steelhead appliances in their Braunschweig and Tokyo sites. Before the deployment, the Tokyo staff could not even browse through the file system on the server in Erlangen.  Latency of as much as 300 to 400 ms between Erlangen and Tokyo was constantly provoking timeouts. As soon as the Steelhead appliance was deployed, the people in Tokyo had no trouble working on the server in Erlangen — despite substantial latency, and even though they were still using a 512 kbps connection.

Here again, data volumes were reduced by around 75 percent on average. “A significant improvement was visible as soon as the Steelhead appliance went into service,” Holzwarth attests. “The people in Tokyo were elated. It used to take several hours to transfer 100 MB of source code from the CVS repository. Now, it only takes a matter of minutes.

“Configuration took 15 minutes. And only one local member of staff was needed to take the appliance live.”

Steelhead Appliances: The New Standard

One challenge to the use of a Steelhead appliance was the Samba server, which Steelhead does not normally support. “But Riverbed’s support team was very fast and efficient,” says Holzwarth, looking back. “When we explained the problem, they immediately performed an analysis. Three days later, they supplied us with a patch that worked perfectly first time.”

3SOFT attaches great importance to the low risk in deploying Steelhead appliances. Although the Steelhead appliances are fitted “in-path”, i.e. on the critical link between the LAN switch and the WAN router, there is no danger that the connection might be lost should an appliance fail. If this happens, the appliance merely operates as a piece of network wiring, so data traffic continues to flow through it unimpeded. Moreover, each appliance naturally also has an alert function that warns the administrator if problems arise.

3SOFT is a successful, growing company that is currently preparing to open a new office in Munich. While planning has not yet been finalized, one thing is for sure: In Munich too, a Steelhead appliance will keep WAN performance up to speed — and eliminate the need to deploy local file servers and backup systems.

“It used to take several hours to transfer 100 MB of source code. Now, it only takes a matter of minutes.”

SUMMARY

3SOFT had been relying on local file servers and backup systems in its remote offices, because high latency, low bandwidth WAN links had made remote data access all but impossible. By deploying Steelhead appliances, 3SOFT was able to eliminate the remote file servers and backup systems, without affecting remote productivity. Employees in all locations can now collaborate over the WAN, sharing files in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Steelhead appliances will become standard equipment for each new office rollout.

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