Flow International Corporation is the market leader in a space that I had never come across before. Their web site says:
Flow International Corporation provides technologically advanced, environmentally sound solutions to the manufacturing and industrial cleaning markets. We’re the pacesetter in the development and manufacture of ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) waterjet technology, and a leading provider of robotics equipment.
The shorter description is that (among other things) they produce equipment that generates ultra-high pressure water cutting devices that can (among other things) precision-cut almost any material. Their jets can propel a spray of water thinner than a human hair at Mach 3. The jets are especially useful in applications where blades and other cutting devices don’t work (like cutting a 12” piece of granite), and where laser and plasma cutters can’t do the job (like cutting metal, where the heat can cause the metal to deform). They are also cleaner and more environmentally friendly than blades, lasers, or plasmas since they don’t produce dust or other debris as part of the cutting process. (You can watch some very cool videos of Flow devices cutting some really interesting things here like an iPod and a laptop. You can also see their cutters in action on the US TV show American Choppers.)
Until late in 2009, Flow International ran their ERP system on AS400s, but by then they had outgrown it, and began to look at alternatives. They eventually settled on Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 with Terminal Server running over RDP to connect their data center in Kent, WA with their facility in Bretten, Germany. Primarily due to network latency, the performance was, in a word, awful. Screen refreshes were so slow that users would type before the screens were ready, often causing incorrect changes to data entries, adding to user frustration. The system was unusable.
At this point, Jason Dickens, Enterprise Infrastructure Manager at Flow International, began to look for ways to improve performance within the current implementation through tuning and other basic enhancements, but was unable to improve things significantly. So he explored WAN Optimization solutions, and specifically Riverbed, since he had used Steelhead appliances in a previous position. He learned, to his dismay, that RDP could not be accelerated by Steelhead appliances or any other WAN Optimization appliance. So he further broadened his search, and learned about Citrix ICA and led a trial of Riverbed and Citrix together.
He and his team were blown away by the performance improvement. The system became more than merely usable; performance was quick and snappy. They were so impressed that within two weeks of the start of the trial in December 2009 they bought the three trial Steelhead appliances, rather than disturb them, plus six additional boxes. Less than a year later, they bought four more, to bring their total to 13 (six in Europe, three in Asia, and two each in the US and South America).
The results have been nothing short of remarkable. While Riverbed and Citrix tell their customers they can expect 40-80% bandwidth reduction, Flow consistently sees better than 80%. As for implementation, it could not have been easier; to quote Jason, “We just turned them on, and they worked.”
They’ve also seen remarkable side benefits from the implementation, since Steelhead Appliances optimize all network traffic, not just Citrix. Their EMC RecoverPoint and Microsoft DPM replication traffic, which regularly send terabytes of data across the WAN have been optimized by better than 95%, further freeing large amounts of network bandwidth for their global DFSR data to flow easily across their global network infrastructure.
The performance enhancements delivered by Flow’s Riverbed Steelhead appliances have enabled them to provide application service, data replication, and disaster recovery on their existing virtualized network infrastructure at a level that would not otherwise be possible. As a result, Flow can focus on implementing new technologies to further enhance business goals and user experience without having to be concerned about network latency and bandwidth limitations.
(By the way, if you like looking at and sharing Riverbed performance numbers and graphs, be sure to check out the Riverbed Performance Hall of Fame!)