News for the Hospitality Executive
Internet uptime and bandwidth with WAN
Optimization and Redundancy for the Hospitality Industry
|By Marc Goodman
Companies that cater to the hospitality needs of businesses and individuals such as hotels, convention facilities, food services, travel services and others, have been rapidly deploying new services and applications over the Internet to provide more convenient registration, travel arrangements, high-speed Internet access to guests, facilitate the purchasing of services, and to improve many other aspects of daily operations.
These businesses are realizing the many benefits of using the Internet to streamline services, share information and communicate with their clients. Hospitality services using the Internet to deliver their services are deploying powerful and sophisticated applications, while, the Internet infrastructure supporting them has become more vital with every passing year. Through the use of the Internet, business processes are being streamlined, business operations are becoming more efficient, costs are being reduced, and customers are receiving more immediate and more effective service. The Internet is improving the way hospitality services work.
Deploying fast and reliable hospitality services over the Internet presents many technical and business challenges due to the underlying WAN infrastructure. As opposed to an organization’s LAN, where network administrators have greater control, the WANs reliability and performance is for the most part, out of the network administrator’s direct control. The issues they are confronted with include affordable and flexible scalability, network reliability, and the increase in the number of complex applications that overload WAN links, causing network congestion and bottlenecks. Adding to this are the compounding effects of service provider outages, which place added pressures on an already over-burdened IT staff.
Ensuring the reliable and fast delivery of critical applications that need to be continuously available, while providing optimum performance is critical to the success of any hospitality company. Users of these online services must have immediate access, as poor performance or inability to quickly access critical information such as hotel room availability and airline flight times can cause customers to go to a competitor.
WAN optimization and redundancy needs for Hospitality companies
Until recently, WAN solutions such as multi-homing had been cost prohibitive for small-to-medium sized hospitality facilities. Today, advanced WAN Optimization Controllers with link load balancing and failover capabilities are not only affordable, but the integration and consolidation of WAN and/or ISP link load balancing and failover, built-in VPN, and firewall provides hospitality providers of any size with very affordable out-of-the-box solutions.
For large hospitality organizations, integrating “enterprise-level” networking gear is commonplace. However, for small and medium size hospitality facilities, “enterprise-level” equates to big bucks, with enterprise-specific features that they can’t use. Rather, deploying products that are built with the explicit features, performance, reliability and scalability created specifically for the small-to-medium sized hospitality market is the answer.
In general, large hospitality facilities may be inclined to purchase “enterprise-level” products. However, “value” vendors that offer products within the same category can provide the optimal performance, features, reliability and security that small-to-medium sized hospitality market need, with the same functional benefits and affordability.
For the large organization, “enterprise-level” products come with a high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Value vendors can help small and medium size hospitality facilities lower their TCO, and create high-performance and scalable WAN infrastructure. Their products are built for small to medium size organizations for dramatically less than the price of “enterprise-level” vendors with features that only large hospitality providers might use.
Critical applications delivered over the WAN
It has only been within the last few years that hospitality organizations have utilized separate systems and services to communicate and transact business with business and individual customers. Now, through the widespread adoption of the Internet, the real power of networking is being unleashed, and applications are being developed to harness the growth of the Internet. Traditional applications such as registration, service ordering, ticketing, reservations and many other applications have been integrated into complete web applications for the hospitality industry. These web applications unify and streamline business processes from previously monolithic client/server applications. This is good news for small-to-medium sized hospitality facilities, as web-based applications offer the potential to reduce the need for expensive hardware and quicken deployment time.
However, hospitality organizations that deploy web-based applications are facing many challenges. For example, when an application is delivered over the WAN and/or ISP link, it is not uncommon that the link cannot handle the increased traffic load effectively. The source of these varied problems is continually associated with high traffic volumes, limited bandwidth resources and ISP outages. Despite existing budgets for IT-related equipment and services, web applications may not deliver the expected improvements in performance, scalability and efficiency when delivered over the WAN.
The diversity of today’s work environment and the increase in remote offices and telecommuters are a direct result of the benefits of the Internet. The Internet and the web in particular, have made it possible through the use of diverse technologies to enable secure access to business applications. It is important to point out that the successful delivery of applications over the Internet depends upon the flexibility of the WAN infrastructure.
IT WAN Infrastructure
To conduct electronic commerce, transaction-based applications are delivered over the Internet (WAN). The management and operations of WAN links can be complex and expensive. A typical site connected to the Internet will use a WAN link controller to connect to one or more Internet Service Providers (ISP), over one or more WAN links, and then routers pass traffic through to firewalls, which pass traffic to server load balancers that ultimately direct users to the appropriate servers. If just one of these components in the process fails, a worst case scenario would be that the entire site may be taken down. What typically happens is a user request will take longer than expected, or a customer transaction will not go through.
The Internet was not developed with the demands of modern commerce in mind. With today’s use of the Internet, Internet delays can cost a business revenue and loss of employee productivity. Even if web-based applications are developed with this in mind, the Internet can be a bottleneck. In addition to WAN links that may be over-loaded, other events can cause applications to fail when going over the WAN, such as network hardware failure, human error and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Also, the Internet does not distinguish between a critical business transaction and a general web page, and does not assign guaranteed quality of service for applications. With an unlimited IT budget for WAN and datacenter infrastructure, and personnel to manage and monitor your IT infrastructure, you might be ok, but for most organizations an unlimited budget is unreasonable.
WAN application delivery solutions
WAN application delivery solutions were built to address the challenges associated with WAN infrastructure complexity, performance, scalability and security. These solutions are quite diverse, and may be known as Application Delivery Controllers (ADC), Global Load Balancers (GLB), WAN Link Controllers, Dual WAN Routers, Multi-homing Switches, WAN Optimization Controllers (WOCs) and other names. In order to avoid confusion, this paper will refer to WAN optimization and redundancy solutions, as specialized WAN Optimization Controllers that have link load balancing and failover capabilities. For simplicity sake, we’ll refer to them as WAN link controllers. Today’s WAN link controllers actually evolved from global load balancers that were first introduced in the late 1990s.
WAN link controllers provide the ability to direct Internet traffic to the best performing, most accessible WAN and/or ISP links. Should one of the links become inaccessible due to a bottleneck or failure, the WAN link controller will take that link out of service, and automatically re-direct traffic to other functioning links. This process is virtually seamless to the user.
During the past few years, WAN application delivery has emerged as one of the most important technologies in solving the problem of performance and accessibility for applications delivered over the Internet. In addition, by using various link load balancing algorithms, a WAN link controller can distribute users to links that offer the best performance.
WAN Optimization Controller Product Categories
WAN link load balancing (multi-homing) – These products intelligently distribute user traffic among multiple, diverse WAN and/or ISP links. Advanced products include WAN and ISP link aggregation; automated inbound and outbound load balancing and failover; point-to-point channel bonding with stateful failover, multi-site failover and fallback, QoS and traffic shaping, VPN load balancing and redundancy and built-in VPN and firewall technology.
WAN optimization - These products accelerate applications with caching, compression, WAFS, protocol optimization, QoS and traffic shaping and other content and application specific acceleration methods.
WAN geographical load balancing – These products utilize global redirection technologies and health checking to keep users connected. They distribute traffic based on various perimeters such as geography, round trip time, site availability, Hops, etc.
Through bundling (aggregating) multiple, diverse Internet links from one or more ISPs, WAN link controllers reduce the need to purchase multiple and expensive high-speed links. This enables organizations to increase bandwidth by using cost-effective links without compromising up-time. In addition to managing scalability and redundancy, WAN link controllers cost-effectively utilize all available WAN bandwidth through intelligent link load balancing, with features such as cost-based and other quality-of-service routing. WAN link controllers provide controls for how bandwidth is used to support applications. This allows you to take advantage of the most cost-effective ISP rates, while ensuring appropriate levels of bandwidth are available for specific applications.
This diagram shows a WAN link controller automatically managing two separate WAN connections to ensure uptime and optimize performance.
WAN link controllers allow hospitality organizations to choose the WAN link performance/cost ratio that best fits their needs; provide complete service provider independence; and eliminate the complexity of network protocols such as border gateway protocol (BGP). An advanced WAN link controller will use both inbound and outbound bandwidth aggregation to combine two or more Internet connections, and provide critical applications with access to the total available combined bandwidth. A WAN link controller uses link load balancing to route Internet sessions from congested links, to links with more available bandwidth. They also provide automatic failover of Internet sessions from failed links to functional connections to eliminate a single-point-of-failure. For example, if you have a T1 line (1.5 Mbps), and need additional bandwidth, you would typically have to upgrade to a T3 line (45 Mbps). However, this may be significantly more bandwidth than you require, and will be a significant increase in cost.
This same scenario can be accomplished with two 768 Kbps DSL links that can be combined for a total aggregated bandwidth equivalent to a T1 - at a fraction of the cost. You can also add additional lower speed links such as xDSL, cable, wireless, and others, with a relatively small increase in cost that can more closely match your needs. In addition to receiving more cost-effective bandwidth, you are dramatically increasing the reliability of your WAN network due to the new levels of redundancy through the aggregation of multiple Internet links.
WAN link controllers use various techniques to direct traffic load between two or more WAN and/or ISP links, to optimize resource utilization and improve application delivery. They are typically independent of WAN technologies, and fully compatible with xDSL, cable, wireless, T1, E1, T3, E3, satellite, fiber channel, frame relay and other link types. This flexibility allows you to mix and match connectivity to best fit your needs.
What to look for in a WAN link controller
The functionality listed below is the criteria that a small-to-medium sized enterprise should look for when choosing a WAN application delivery solution for their needs.
High Availability (Hot Standby) - Since all outbound and inbound traffic must pass through the WAN link controller, should it fail, the entire site will be inaccessible. To address this, some vendors support redundant configurations. Usually, a standby (or redundant) configuration is supported - sometimes referred to as HA (High Availability). Most sites utilize at least one HA pair - as it would be risky to deploy multiple WAN links for redundancy and scalability, only to lose the entire site due to the WAN link controller hardware failure. Should one of the WAN link controllers go down, the standby unit will send an SMTP notification to the administrator.
Outbound bandwidth aggregation – the WAN link controller should provide outbound bandwidth load balancing and failover. The user defines weights (bandwidth capacity) based on the bandwidth of each WAN link. When a session is generated, the device computes which link has the most available bandwidth and routes traffic from that session over that particular WAN link. The device typically allows the selection of two link load balancing algorithms:
1. Symmetrical round robin - routes sessions to all links in a round robin manner.
2. Intelligent (weighted) load balancing - computes a ratio between the weight (bandwidth capacity) of the different WAN links, and then routes sessions accordingly. That is, the faster the link, the more sessions that will be sent over that link, in order to make the most efficient use of all the bandwidth available. Additionally, an intelligent link load balancing solution will examine the amount of real-time traffic on each link, compared to the amount of available bandwidth resources left, and choose the best path for the next session’s most optimal route for performance.
Inbound bandwidth aggregation - is accomplished by the WAN link controller acting as the authoritative DNS server for the domain. The device advertises all available WAN links to the DNS cache servers which in turn resolve the domain names to queries in a round robin format. In this manner, all externally initiated sessions are load balanced over all available links. Since the device is resident at the domain site and is able to directly monitor the link status, failed links are removed from the DNS tables immediately upon failure. By setting the host name record Time-to-Live (TTL) to a short period(i.e. 30 seconds), the DNS caching servers will flush their address tables and will update them from the device regularly, and thus be informed when a link fails.
Cost-effective - A quality WAN link controller should deliver easy and affordable WAN/ISP link aggregation, inbound and outbound load-balancing, failover and site-to-site channel bonding. You may use two, three or however many WAN links and ISPs you need. This allows you to leverage low-cost links, eliminate link congestion and bottlenecks, and use the device’s QoS traffic management features to guarantee minimum bandwidth to specific applications.
You can take advantage of the cost of a lower cost DSL link. Not only can you get the flexible capacity – you can also buy cost-effective links from multiple ISPs, so that if one link goes down, the links are automatically switched over to the working links.
WAN link controllers should allow you to choose the WAN link performance/cost ratio that best fits your needs; provides you with complete service provider independence; and eliminates the complexity of network protocols such as border gateway protocol (BGP). The device’s inbound and outbound bandwidth aggregation capability combines two or more Internet connections and provides Internet-based applications with access to the total available combined bandwidth. Bandwidth aggregation supports link load balancing to route Internet sessions from congested links, to links with more available bandwidth. It also provides automatic failover of Internet sessions from failed links to functional connections to eliminate a single-point-of-failure.
Easy-to-use - WAN link controllers should have an easy-to-use web user interface with an intuitive administration capability. The web user interface allows you to define, manage and control multiple, diverse WAN links, bandwidth and QoS settings.
Redundant Internet access - Redundant Internet access is the ability to switch traffic among multiple Internet connections through a technique called multi-homing, which more and more small and medium-sized companies are finding they need. When one service provider goes down, the WAN link controller automatically switches your Internet traffic to another service provider connection.
WAN and ISP failover - When a WAN link controller detects a link failure it should automatically update the DNS record for your domain so that the server requests are sent to the IP address of your alternate server or server cluster.
Site redundancy - Many businesses need to redirect Internet traffic to a disaster recovery site should a catastrophe disrupt a main site. WAN link controllers can in effect, reduce the cost to ensure that site failover and fallback occur automatically, reliably, making this functionality practical and affordable even for the smallest organization.
Quality of Service (QoS) - QoS is the ability to prioritize network traffic to ensure that adequate bandwidth is always available to specific bandwidth-intensive applications, especially during periods of congestion. QoS rules determine bandwidth minimums and maximums for specific types of traffic and use load balancing and automatic failover to direct this traffic to links with sufficient bandwidth. WAN link controllers should provide QoS support for traffic based on user defined rules.
Performance - Performance of applications over the WAN directly affects response time. This includes not only total average transaction time, but assures that users located at performance-challenged sites (such as branch or remote offices) still receive the acceptable level of performance. Performance is an important criterion for any piece of networking equipment, but it is critical for a device such as a WAN link controller, because datacenters are central points of aggregation. As such, the WAN link controller should support extremely high volumes of traffic transmitted to and from sites. A simple definition of performance is how many bits-per-second the device can support. While this is extremely important, in the case of a WAN optimization controller, other key measures of performance include how many WAN links, concurrent sessions and domain names and how many users can be supported simultaneously.
Security - Security for network access and secure delivery of applications over the WAN is vital. WAN link controllers should address issues specific to applications crossing the network, such as required levels of encryption, authentication, and maximum reasonable usage profiles (for detecting DoS attacks, intrusions, and virus behavior).
VPN load balancing and redundancy - For many remote offices, maintaining a VPN connection to another remote office or the corporate network is critical for preserving security over the WAN. Organizations with multiple sites use multiple WAN links with VPN load balancing to provide security, failover protection and cost-based link flexibility. WAN link controllers should support VPN load balancing to deliver high-performance, fault-tolerant VPN connectivity over the WAN. A key benefit to VPN load balancing is the ability to create a VPN connection using multiple and diverse WAN links that work together. By using multiple ISPs, data and applications can securely travel through the aggregated VPN network from any of the links on the transmitting side, to any of the links on the receiving side. WAN link controller VPN load balancing should be able to switch the order of the IPSec packets as they come from the VPN server, and based on load balancing decisions, send the packets to multiple sites with WAN link controllers located at both ends. This capability makes it difficult for intruders to assemble IPSec packets, organize them in the right order, and decrypt them. A hospitality facility with two or more network links between their headquarters and a branch office can use a WAN link controller to combine the bandwidth of the two links to improve network performance, as well as provide VPN traffic redundancy, so that if one of the network connections fails, the VPN will remain connected without any lost sessions.
Scalability - Scalability of applications delivered over the WAN is a critical consideration. It is important to understand how many users can have access to available network resources without having to spend large amounts of money to upgrade your network. Scalability of a WAN link controller implies the availability of a range of products that span the performance and cost requirements of a variety of datacenter environments. Performance requirements for accessing datacenter applications and data resources are usually characterized in terms of both the aggregate throughput of the WAN link controller, and the number of simultaneous application sessions that can be supported.
Site-to-site channel bonding - site-to-site channel bonding provides the ability to bond multiple Internet links into a single high-bandwidth channel for uninterrupted availability for applications that require site-to-site connectivity. If one WAN link goes down or degrades in performance, traffic is automatically directed to the best working links without interruption. Channel bonding is a form of load balancing which allows for stateful failover of traffic to the best performing links to ensure critical applications avoid problems that occur when they are stopped on one link and restarted over another link. Site-to-site channel bonding ensures that critical applications avoid WAN failures, and are not adversely affected, even after brief disruptions.
Site-to-site channel bonding supports applications that are bandwidth-intensive. These files may be sent over an open connection, or transferred through a VPN connection to remote locations. Transfer time can be dramatically reduced by combining multiple WAN links, while preventing the need to re-transmit files due to a WAN link interruption which may drop the VPN connection. By adding additional bandwidth connections at a remote location, and incorporating a WAN link controller at each site, you can bond the bandwidth of multiple links to increase the aggregate throughput – dramatically lowering the transfer time. With multiple Internet paths, you can also ensure file transmissions continue even if one of the links fails.
The complexity associated with managing WAN infrastructure for small-to-medium sized hospitality facilities has brought with it many new challenges that today’s IT staff must meet. Hospitality organizations that deliver critical applications for datacenters, remote offices and customers can rely on more than just a single ISP or WAN link to ensure uptime. For virtually any hospitality organization today, computer networks are tightly integrated into the business processes. These organizations are using the network to conduct business and communicate with business and individual customers, partners and employees beyond their LAN. The WAN is having an ever increasing role in supporting the automation of business applications such as registration, service ordering, ticketing, reservations, and communications using email and VoIP. Compound this with the reality that today’s small-to-medium sized hospitality organization demands immediate and secure access has never been more of a concern, yet many sites today still lack the required WAN infrastructure to deliver the appropriate reliability, performance and security, and the need for an intelligent solution to manage multiple Internet connections becomes a top priority for most small-to-medium sized hospitality facilities in today’s market.
About the author
Marc Goodman is the director of marketing at Ecessa, a manufacturer of advanced WAN Optimization products that provide WAN and ISP link aggregation, intelligent load balancing, failover, QoS and VPN load balancing and failover within a single device.