If you use multiple service providers for Internet bandwidth, and Web site performance is critical to your business, you may want to look at Sockeye Networks‘ route optimization services. Sockeye’s GlobalRoute solution combines hardware, software, and services so that your internetworking performance meets expectations and your bandwidth utilization does not exceed commitments. GlobalRoute is designed to keep customers happy and reduce operating costs.

To help you determine whether you can benefit from this type of route optimization, let’s look at how GlobalRoute works, its features, and its target market.

Sockeye spins off
Sockeye Networks is actually a spin-off of popular e-business infrastructure and software provider Akamai Technologies. Akamai has more than 13,000 servers throughout the world, which it uses to distribute content to its customers. Akamai realized that data gathered from its global infrastructure had applications beyond the network’s current purpose to deliver Internet content.

Jay Seaton, Sockeye’s vice president of sales and business development, said Akamai developed software that used the real-time information from its global network to make more efficient routing decisions for its customers. Because the application of the new software was tangential to the core services Akamai provided, it decided to spin off a new company that would provide products and services built around what the route optimization software was designed to do. Thus, Sockeye and GlobalRoute were born.

Route optimization solution
GlobalRoute improves internetworking performance by evaluating current conditions and directing traffic via the best available route according to performance measures and bandwidth commitments. Using information obtained from Akamai’s worldwide infrastructure, GlobalRoute determines where possible Internet bottlenecks are occurring. It can then predict which routes will be congested and redirect traffic accordingly.

Seaton said Sockeye “has an exclusive license to that ongoing, real-time information. We’re the only route optimization provider that has access to the Akamai information.”

Tapping into this data is a big plus for a couple of reasons.

“The benefit we get from that information,” Seaton said, “is twofold: First, it gives us a heads up on any congestion that’s building up on the Internet. And second, it gives us [information on] the structure of the Internet, which is constantly changing.”

GlobalRoute can determine whether provider X is a better option for routing traffic than provider Y based on data indicating possible problem areas that may slow down traffic.

“Our real value to customers is that if you have multiple providers to the Internet, we will dynamically pick the best path.”

Seaton said that the best provider doesn’t always offer the best route, and frequently, the best providers—those with the fastest connections—are also the most expensive. So it’s often more cost-effective to route traffic through less expensive providers when congestion slows down the routes of the more expensive providers.

In addition to data gathered from Akamai’s international network, GlobalRoute analyzes traffic on local routers. The GlobalRoute solution includes software based on the prototype originally developed by Akamai, a hardware appliance that rests just outside the firewall, and the Internet performance and structure data obtained from the Akamai network.

GlobalRoute also produces real-time reports that display the status of a company’s Internet connections. The reports include data on latency, trace routes, and packet loss and can present data on a per-link or per-destination basis. Preconfigured reports are included with GlobalRoute, but users can also build custom reports for specific data.

TTSG testimonial
One company that has turned to Sockeye’s solution is TTSG Internet Services. TTSG provides a wide range of services to its clients, including site hosting, e-business solutions, and Web management.

TTSG relies on three upstream providers for its Internet bandwidth. The company multihomed its network over the three connections to serve its clients. The performance of these three networks had a direct impact on the performance of the clients’ Web sites: Whatever negatively affected TTSG’s connections resulted in unhappy TTSG customers.

The routing of traffic over these three transit providers also affected TTSG financially. TTSG found itself going over bandwidth commitments on some of the links and was constantly paying overage charges. TTSG relied on BGP to route traffic, which caused many problems because traffic wasn’t being routed with bandwidth commitments in mind.

TTSG owner and president Scott Ellentuch said the company continually had to modify the BGP configuration by hand. Attempting to route traffic over the best connection required a lot of manual intervention and guesswork. When the configurations resulted in exceeding the bandwidth commitment on one connection, TTSG was forced to route traffic through another provider.

Performance also suffered. Congestion caused slow Web site performance for TTSG customers, who complained to TTSG. The company would then have to troubleshoot the problem to find out where the congestion was occurring.

Ellentuch said that by the time a problem was reported to TTSG and it was able to follow up on it, the congestion would have cleared up.

“We spent a lot of our time chasing ghosts that we would never see.”

GlobalRoute solved TTSG’s problems by automating the tasks TTSG was performing manually. And because GlobalRoute relies on data from Akamai, as well as direct measurements of network performance, it removed the guesswork from the routing equation. The hardware appliance is connected to the network and set up as a BGP session to the network router. The appliance analyzes different scan points in addition to using information from Akamai.

Ellentuch said that GlobalRoute performs a check every five minutes and makes any needed switches. This has resulted in performance improvements for TTSG’s clients and dramatically reduced the number of calls from clients reporting congestion issues, especially since getting the upgrade release, Marlin.

“We’ve had maybe three reports since [installing GlobalRoute],” Ellentuch said, “and that was before the Marlin release. Once we got the Marlin release, we haven’t heard anything from Webmasters about congestion issues.”

TTSG has saved thousands of dollars by using GlobalRoute because it generally keeps traffic below commitment levels on all three providers while improving performance for clients. Ellentuch said he was originally considering GlobalRoute because of the potential cost savings, but he said it has also brought significant performance improvements. The solution has saved the company money while making its clients much happier with the overall performance of the network.

Important considerations
Who should use GlobalRoute? Seaton said that GlobalRoute can benefit any company that has multiple providers for Internet access. But he added that it’s generally most cost-effective for companies with relatively large pipes such as DS3 or larger, even fractional DS3.

The price for the GlobalRoute service starts at $4,900 per month for full route optimization for all IP traffic, and $1,200 per month per site for VPN applications. Keep in mind that what you’re paying for is a service; it’s not just a piece of hardware installed on-site. TTSG’s experience shows that the performance improvements and the savings on bandwidth charges could quickly offset the cost of the service.