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Mon 3 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Easy does it

Not all technology projects should strike fear into the heart of the IT team, as ACN found out when it spoke to Leo Burnett MENA about its WAN optimisation system implementation.

Not all technology projects should strike fear into the heart of the IT team, as ACN found out when it spoke to Leo Burnett MENA about its WAN optimisation system implementation.

Most IT projects call for a lot of work. They require extensive planning and testing, followed by lengthy implementation, often accompanied by integration challenges and finally, a pressure-filled go-live date.

To get through all this, the IT team may need the assistance of a wide range of outside professionals, including business and/or IT consultants, vendors and integrators.

When I first got the appliance, I was so keen to see what it did and put it on a separate network that I tested it. I took it home and played around and it was so easy that I put it on the network the second or third day.

The infrequent IT project that doesn't necessitate all of this and manages to deliver on its objectives is a blissful experience for all involved, as Leo Burnett MENA discovered when it implemented a WAN optimisation system.

The network that IT staff at Leo Burnett MENA operate supports more than 700 employees across nine sites, located in Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Kuwait, Riyadh and Jeddah.

And as an advertising company, Leo Burnett uses the internet extensively for research and communication, including downloading music and video files.

On top of that, the network is also used by staff to access web applications which are centralised in Dubai, Paris and Chicago, and it was that aspect of the network that drove the IT team to consider how to optimise the network.

"We have a few applications that are centralised here in Dubai," explains Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director for Leo Burnett MENA.

"The guys in the region, for example, use a timesheet application on our ERP system out of Dubai, so accessing that was a bit slow for a place like Beirut."

"We also use it internally for communication between the offices, because we do have VOIP. We're planning to have more of a centralised model out of Dubai so this is definitely a big piece of the whole equation," he adds.

The company was finding that its network operating costs were escalating as the network carried over 400Gbytes of data per month, growing at a rate of more than 20% a year.

In addition, the network's application response times were degrading because of latency and congestion, particularly for those users located in remote offices.

"The network was slow in some places, like Beirut and Saudi, and when it comes to small offices, they can't afford high-speed links," Aboukhater continues.

What the IT staff wanted was to monitor the network usage in order to understand it better and they attempted to do this through their security provider.

"We have managed firewalls and those firewalls are monitored 24/7 by an outside company and we never really had a real-time overview, put it that way, about what was going on."

"We always had alerts coming from them that something was going on but we never had traffic information that could tell us, for example, if someone was downloading a lot of stuff or people were listening to music online," says Aboukhater.

"Although we do allow these things, there are constraints because of the speed, there are people who have more privileges than others due to the nature of their work so we needed to make sure that it wasn't being abused and we needed to make sure that if there were any suspicious activities going on we could easily pinpoint them," he adds.
This was one of the main benefits Leo Burnett saw in implementing WAN optimisation - the ability to classify and monitor traffic while optimising application performance.

The actual idea of implementing Exinda Networks' WAN optimisation system, however, came to Leo Burnett MENA in a rather novel way.

Its Beirut office was experiencing most of the problems in accessing the web applications it needed, so they implemented the project in that office alone initially.

"What happened was Exinda was first discovered by our guy in Beirut. They had a good relationship with the supplier and he recommended it," says Aboukhater, "Beirut looked at it and then Sami Mneimneh, our IT manager, went to Beirut to look at it, he really liked it and we decided to move forward with it."

"For centralised applications like financial reporting applications out of Paris where the business group is, they were definitely having a lot of problems accessing those sites with very strict deadlines."

"And sometimes the connectivity had a lot of issues so these were the main reasons they got the Exinda optimisation there. But then we saw the value of having multiple appliances all over the network because of what we can do between the offices," he adds.

As a test was already taking place, in essence, in Beirut, this was not a phase of the project Aboukhater and Mneimneh needed to worry about. Nevertheless, they looked into other vendors' products to ensure Exinda was right for them.

"We compared it to a few other systems out there and we really found that it offered good value for money and the simplicity and ease of use was something that made us more comfortable implementing it," Aboukhater says.

That simplicity was perhaps the best part of the project for Aboukhater and Mneimneh, as it meant that implementation across all Leo Burnett MENA took only a couple of weeks - and couldn't have been easier, according to Mneimneh.

"Basically, I did it myself!" he says, "When I first got the appliance, I was so keen to see what it did and put it on a separate network that I tested it. I took it home and played around and it was so easy that I put it on the network on the second or third day!

"I monitored what happened for a couple of days and then I started to do the configuration and optimisation, and for other offices I was doing it remotely which was easier than the first set up because I got used to working with the appliance itself."

And along with almost effortless implementation, Leo Burnett MENA has also found that the project has delivered on its objectives.

"One thing for sure is that it gave us a very clear real-time overview of what's going on," says Aboukhater.

Mneimneh adds that it even helps with securing the network: "Because we can block a lot of ports, we can prioritise some ports over other ports."

"It has a lot of firewall features so it complemented the service we were getting from our firewall company.

"Plus it was configured in no time, we put it in for a couple of days, we monitored what was happening and the configuration took a day or so," he adds.

"There are tangible measurements and there are intangible measurements, I mean, what price would you put on being able to meet a deadline? But we definitely felt the difference immediately once we put it in place," Aboukhater concludes.

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