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Cisco is recentralizing and virtualizing its data center infrastructure to increase business agility, a trend that the company calls Data Center 3.0. Data Center 1.0 refers to centralized mainframes, and Data Center 2.0 describes highly distributed architectures with reduced IT control (Figure 1).
The Data Center 3.0 initiative at Cisco supports the following business and IT goals:
Cisco IT had to overcome two challenges to consolidate the data center environment:
Figure 1. Cisco Has Evolved to Data Center 3.0
The company wanted an application acceleration solution that did not change the application experience, by adding additional steps, for example. Cisco IT also wanted a solution that would accelerate all TCP applications, including those based on HTTP, HTTPS, Microsoft Exchange, and Common Internet File System (CIFS).
Cisco IT found its solution in Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS), which the company uses to accelerate Oracle, SAP, Microsoft Exchange, and other applications (Figure 2). Cisco branch-office employees access centralized applications and file systems exactly as they did when the applications and file systems were hosted locally, because Cisco WAAS operates transparently in both the network and application layers.
Figure 2. Cisco Wide Area Application Engine (WAE) Appliances or Modules Are Deployed in Branch Offices and the Data Center
Cisco currently deploys a single Cisco WAAS appliance or router module in each branch and one or more in data centers. If an employee in Bulgaria visits a webpage hosted in the Cisco San Jose data center, for example, the Cisco WAAS appliance in Bulgaria communicates with the appliance in the San Jose data center to optimize requests and responses. Behind the scenes, multiple optimization and compression techniques accelerate application performance and minimize bandwidth.
Cisco uses a combination of standalone Cisco WAAS appliances and Cisco Integrated Services Router (ISR) modules. Most remote offices receive a Cisco WAE-674 appliance, which Cisco IT chose because it supports virtual blades. Cisco IT currently uses the virtual blade capability for enterprise print services and will soon add content and delivery network services. “Virtual blades reduce TCO [total cost of ownership] for branch offices,” says Jim Palermo, Cisco IT project manager.
Smaller Cisco offices receive a Cisco WAAS Network Module NME 522, which fits into the existing office Cisco ISR alongside other modules for unified communications, security, and wireless LAN. Combining WAAS and other services in one platform increases operational efficiency and reduces branch power and cooling requirements.
Cisco routers use Web Cache Coordination Protocol (WCCP) to direct traffic to Cisco WAAS. This approach increases application availability. During maintenance of a Cisco WAAS appliance or module, employees simply continue to access centralized applications and services as they would ordinarily, just without acceleration. “Installing WAAS takes just 10 minutes,” says Palermo. “The technician simply turns on WCCP within the router’s Cisco IOS Software and conducts tests.”
Cisco IT deployed Cisco WAAS across the global enterprise in three phases.
Figure 3. 2007 Pilot Deployment: Bandwidth Savings Summary Using Cisco WAAS
Cisco IT began developing a WAAS business case and architecture in March 2007. Late that year, Cisco conducted a proof of concept in seven remote offices in Europe, Eastern Europe, and other emerging markets, and the Amsterdam data center. Cisco chose these locations for the pilot, because they have limited WAN bandwidth and bandwidth is relatively expensive, maximizing potential performance improvements and cost savings.
Previously, Cisco IT used the Cisco Application Content and Networking System (ACNS) for web content caching and rich media prepositioning in these locations. Cisco WAAS further increased available bandwidth by optimizing more types of application traffic. Even the limited pilot reduced TCP traffic by 20 percent, and the combination of Cisco WAAS and Cisco ACNS reduced WAN bandwidth consumption by 40 percent (Figure 3).
In June 2008, Cisco IT began a global pilot with 40 offices representing a cross-section of Cisco locations and network topologies. During the 8-week pilot, Cisco IT confirmed that Cisco WAAS worked well with Cisco ACNS. The company also confirmed that the Cisco Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) did not perceive the Cisco Wide Area Application Engine (WAE) as a malicious host when it intercepted traffic.
Cisco timed the enterprise deployment to coincide with its data center virtualization program, based on the Cisco Unified Computing System. Cisco IT engaged its usual services partner to deploy Cisco WAAS. “Implementing Cisco WAAS is as simple as replacing a router, and our partner was comfortable viewing WAAS as part of the Cisco IT Fleet Management Program to continually refresh the core infrastructure upgrades during regularly scheduled office visits,” says Palermo.
Offices are eligible for a Cisco WAAS solution if they have less than 45 Mbps bandwidth. Over 200 offices and four data centers used Cisco WAAS as of January 2010, and Cisco IT expects that more than 300 offices and about eight data centers will be operational within the next few quarters. “Installation and operation have been trouble-free,” Palermo says. “We haven’t opened even one support case.”
Cisco IT introduced Cisco WAAS Mobile during the enterprise deployment. “A couple of thousand Cisco employees, mostly sales teams and executives, use Cisco WAAS Mobile lightweight software on their PCs to accelerate the VPN connection from their home or hotel to the Cisco network,” says Sivasankaran. Cisco WAAS Mobile works whether the employee is using a hardware or software VPN solution, and with any connection, including public Wi-Fi, cellular air card, satellite broadband, and DSL. “We’ve noticed that downloading a large presentation from home takes a fraction of the time with Cisco WAAS Mobile,” Palermo says.
In a survey, 92 percent of employees using Cisco WAAS Mobile recommended that WAAS Mobile become part of the standard desktop. “Cisco IT considers Cisco WAAS Mobile a part of our next-generation desktop architecture for Borderless Networks, our strategy to deliver services anytime, anywhere, and on any device,” says Sivasankaran. Cisco IT has tested Cisco WAAS Mobile for interoperability with other standard elements of Cisco desktops, and has standardized deployment of Cisco WAAS Mobile Server Software on a virtual server.
Cisco currently uses Cisco WAAS to optimize TCP application traffic, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, CIFS, and print services. Internal WAN traffic has decreased by as much as 60 percent in some locations, and Cisco IT projects up to US$30 million savings over three years from deferring or eliminating bandwidth service upgrades.
“Part of Cisco IT’s Borderless Networks strategy is to make the remote office employees’ WAN experience comparable to campus employees’ LAN experience,” says Sivasankaran. “Cisco WAAS has helped us to achieve this cost-effectively, so that Cisco IT can invest in business and collaboration applications instead of avoidable WAN overhead costs.”
The Cisco WAE 674 is helping Cisco IT virtualize its remote offices. “Consolidating intelligence reduces the need for peripheral equipment in our branches, reducing capital and operational expense,” Palermo says.
CIFS traffic optimization has been so effective that Cisco is eliminating local filers at 120 remote offices, moving their content to a regional filer hub. When the full deployment is complete, Cisco IT projects approximately $1 million savings over three years for hardware service and maintenance at branch offices.
Cisco WAAS accelerates HTTP page viewing by approximately 30 seconds, and employees typically visit several hundred HTTP and HTTPS pages daily. Over three years, Cisco IT conservatively estimates the company will achieve $50 million in productivity gains as thousands of remote office workers experience faster application performance. Interestingly, the productivity savings are similar throughout the world. In developed countries with faster connectivity, for example, higher fully burdened salaries offset the somewhat lesser time savings. .
Table 1 shows typical improvements to application performance over the WAN at Cisco. “We are experiencing the same performance increases with Cisco WAAS in more than 200 offices as we did with 30 offices,” Palermo says. “The solution scales with no performance degradation The improvements varied somewhat from test to test, based on latency, bandwidth, and whether Cisco ACNS was used.
|Table 1. Performance Improvement in Branch Offices Using Cisco WAAS|
|Activity||Performance Improvement for First Access (%)||Performance Improvement for Second Access, After Content has Been Cached (%)|
|View intranet page||86||90|
|View cisco.com page||49||78|
|Open a file from within Livelink||61||93|
|Upload a 3.11MB PowerPoint file with Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol||32||84|
|Download 3.11MB PowerPoint file with CIFS||32||99|
|Download a 3.11MB PowerPoint file with Microsoft Exchange||9||42|
Cisco IT surveyed internal users on their impressions of application acceleration. Most respondents indicated that they were impressed with how much more quickly they could download a document from the Cisco internal documentation management systems or a shared folder several times faster, according to Palermo. They also noted faster downloading of Microsoft Exchange attachments, and faster rendering of certain internal webpages. As a result, when files on a local server in the Moscow branch office were moved to a larger file server in the Amsterdam data center, Moscow employees had no indication their files were now 1300 miles away.
Notably, the application performance increases from Cisco WAAS have remained steady as the deployment scaled from 30 to more than 200 offices.
Cisco WAAS optimizes Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which thin clients use to connect to a cloud computing system. Cisco IT is taking advantage of RDP optimization to deploy virtual desktops hosted on the Cisco Unified Computing System, with the goal of increased security, faster provisioning of new services, and cost savings from lower desktop costs and support requirements.
Cisco IT plans to expand its Cisco WAAS program in the following ways:
Cisco IT offers the following suggestions to other IT organizations planning to implement Cisco WAAS: