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WAN optimization enables server centralization, ensuring student and faculty satisfaction with the company?s network. 


IN BRIEF

Industry

  • Education

Challenges

  • Application centralization without adding bandwidth

Solution

  • 80 Steelhead appliances deployed in only four months; 45 to 65 percent less data on the wide area network (WAN)
  • Application-specific optimization to address latency caused by server consolidation

Benefits

  • No recurring cost of additional bandwidth
  • IT tasks such as back up and software upgrades don’t affect end users
  • Better ability to serve the business with new applications

Career Education Corp.

WAN optimization enables server centralization, ensuring student and faculty satisfaction with the company’s network

Established in 1994, Career Education Corporation (CEC) provides career-focused education in a variety of disciplines through online, on-campus and hybrid learning programs. Its more than 90 campuses serve students around the world, offering doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees as well as diploma and certificate programs. CEC has approximately 14,000 employees, 100,000 students and 500,000 alumni.

Approximately 40 percent of CEC’s students attend the web-based virtual campuses of American InterContinental University, Colorado Technical University, International Academy of Design & Technology, and Le Cordon Bleu North America. The other 60 percent attend classes at campuses located throughout the United States as well as in France, the United Kingdom, and the principality of Monaco.

Challenge: Performance when centralizing applications for many locations

CEC’s IT department consists of 200 professionals working in the central offices and 120 others located across more than 90 campuses. The wide area network (WAN) that connects CEC’s operations is a virtual private network (VPN) provided by a global service provider.

Several years ago, the IT team decided to move some applications from its campuses and consolidate them in the company’s two data centers. “We were looking to make our campuses more like a retail operation in the IT support it receives,” explains Dave Czeszewski, vice president for service management at CEC. “Centralizing technology would allow us to achieve economies of scale on cost and labor.

It would also allow us to provide better service, such as ensuring that backups are taken, servers are managed appropriately, software is updated, and so on.” The plan was to consolidate the email and backup applications (Microsoft Exchange and NetApp SnapMirror, respectively) as well as the Cisco voice communications system in the data centers.

The consolidation project opened the door to slower application performance because it increased the traffic across CEC’s WAN. One partial solution was to purchase more bandwidth from the global service provider, but that would’ve resulted in a recurring cost. “We wanted to be more innovative than just throwing bandwidth at the problem,” says Greg Kirk, the director of data and voice communications at CEC. Adding bandwidth would not address network latency or application-level latency, however.

Solution: WAN optimization: “A prerequisite for centralization”

The situation led the IT team to investigate wide area network (WAN) optimization. After evaluating several competing solutions, CEC chose Steelhead WAN optimization appliances from Riverbed Technology. “A big part of why we chose this solution was Riverbed’s reputation,” Kirk said. “From talking to others in the industry, I kept hearing, ‘You can’t go wrong with Riverbed: Their product lives up to what it says it will do.’”

Another reason for selecting Riverbed was the ease of deploying the Steelhead appliances. CEC installed 80 in only four months. According to Jonathan Cabrera, lead network engineer at CEC, “You can’t do that if the product is difficult to use. The Steelhead appliances are easy to deploy and easy to manage as well.” In fact, when Cabrera did have an issue during deployment that required support, Riverbed was ready and able to help. “Riverbed support is very good,” he says. “I haven’t had a lot of cases, but working with them has been a very positive experience.”

By removing transport protocol inefficiencies and reducing WAN round trips at the application layer, the Steelhead appliances eliminated latency that was causing some poor application performance. By significantly reducing the amount of data traveling over the WAN, the appliances effectively doubled CEC’s bandwidth, without saddling the company with the recurring cost of purchasing more bandwidth.

Since the company backhauls Internet traffic from its campuses, the majority of the traffic going across CEC’s WAN is HTTP. The Steelhead appliances have reduced that traffic by 45 to 55 percent before sending it over the WAN. They also reduce the SnapMirror backup data by 64 percent and email (MAPI) traffic by about 40 percent.

Benefits: User satisfaction, better use of IT resources

“Serving our students is our highest priority and the most important benefit of the Steelhead appliances is improved student satisfaction,” Czeszewski said. Enhancing the user experience, for both students and faculty, are critical goals for the IT organization, as they directly support CEC’s mission of delivering career education globally.

Deploying the Steelhead appliances also benefited the IT organization from an operational perspective. For example, Cabrera and his team of network engineers spend less time troubleshooting problems. Another benefit of the Steelhead appliances, explains Cabrera, is that it’s easier to perform network-intensive tasks such as updating software without interfering with end users. “Patch deployment for Windows applications can take up significant bandwidth.

The Steelhead appliances have the ability to reduce that traffic significantly. To me, that was a big win, because in the past we had situations where patching hammered a site significantly. That has practically gone away,” Cabrera said.

Another benefit of the Riverbed solution from Kirk’s point of view is that it’s easier now to add new applications to the network. “Having this level of optimization in place lets us be more flexible and less selective when we’re asked to add new applications for different degree programs,” he said. “When bandwidth is better managed and optimized, then voice and other critical applications perform well across the WAN,” Cabrera said.

SUMMARY

Career Education Corporation (CEC) offers doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees as well as diploma and certificate programs. With approximately 14,000 employees, 100,000 students and 500,000 alumni, CEC operates several virtual, online campuses in addition to more than 90 brick-and-mortar campuses in the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the principality of Monaco.

CEC’s IT team wanted to centralize certain applications in its data centers, and knew that this could affect application performance. They investigated possible solutions and decided that WAN optimization was the answer. The company implemented 80 Steelhead appliances across its U.S. campuses at a rapid pace. All appliances were in place and running in only four months.

The Riverbed solution minimized the impact of network and application-level latency to ensure good application performance over the WAN. The Steelhead appliances reduced critical application data traveling over the WAN by 45 to 65 percent, effectively doubling CEC’s bandwidth capacity without the recurring cost of purchasing more bandwidth. As a result, CEC’s IT team was able to successfully centralize email, backup and other critical applications, and add new applications as faculty requests them. Tasks such as backing up and software upgrades no longer have the potential to disrupt the end users.

“You can’t go wrong with Riverbed. Their product will live up to what it says it will do.”

“This level of optimization lets us be more flexible and less selective when we’re asked to add new applications for different degree programs.”

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