Desjardins impresses with data compression

Josée Corriveau had heard enough of the complaints.

The applications architecture and infrastructure manager at Montreal-based Desjardins Group was dealing with branch office employees across 1,500 locations in Ontario and Quebec who said they were not satisfied with their Internet performance. Pages were too slow to load, and online transactions with head office seemed to be limited by the available bandwidth.

“They were saying it was more rapid at home than at the workplace and things like that,” she says. “There were some that had T1 links, but even for the ones that had a 64 Kbps connection, the pages are the same. We had to see what kind of approach we could take for different types of content.”

Desjardins is an example of the kind of enterprises that may soon be facing a critical network decision: to develop a compression and traffic prioritization tool in-house, or to opt for a standard vendor product. The financial institution has done both. 

The custom-built compression engine came first, not long after the company had migrated off OS/2 to Windows in the early part of this decade and Web transactions were starting to become more common. That engine didn’t solve the problem, though.

“We only compressed our own content, because we knew what kind of tags were used and things like that. It was more for our internal applications,” she says. “In the branch, they had to go to Internet sites like the Government of Canada site, which were not under our control. In those cases, the compression was not activated. It was slower for those users.”

About two years ago, Desjardins moved to Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which features HTTP compression and traffic prioritization. Corriveau says the deployment, which went into production last year, has already saved on bandwidth costs and boosted performance. 

“Of course, the user won’t tell us,” she adds. “It’s not easy to have user perceptions on that. If you wait two seconds, it’s always too long. But the time is better.”

The rise of business-to-business Web traffic is putting considerable pressure on networks to keep up with demand, says Ronald Gruia, an analyst with the Toronto-based office of Frost & Sullivan.

“This is not just Desjardins – this could represent other branch office organizations,” he says. “You could do it in-house, but most of the solutions, they do not scale. They will run into some performance bottlenecks.”

Another option, Gruia says, is to become more proactive about the convergence of voice and data that may be contributing to the bandwidth problems. “You always have to do the proper engineering right from the start. You have to over-engineer to accommodate more traffic,” he says.

Corriveau says the deployment was quite fast. Desjardins rolled out a new build based ISA Server every two weeks for several months, with Microsoft doing their own testing while the in-house team assessed the impacts on its specific architecture. Corriveau recommended companies conduct an “architecture review” prior to the project, even if the standard product is relatively straightforward to deploy.

“You have to make sure you have the best way to implement the product in your environment. That helps give you the support-level control,” she says.

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