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Check Out Our Pipes

When heavy rain or snow kicked up in the Boston area, the microwave link would flake out. Ah, the good ol' days.

Back then, the hospital's primary Internet connection was a microwave link shooting across the Charles River to Harvard University. That's right, Harvard (or Haaaavaaaad, as we say up north) was the hospital's first ISP (a term that was yet to be coined). It always made for an interesting day when heavy rain or snow kicked up in the Boston area because the microwave link invariably would flake out. Ah, the good ol' days.

But look how far we've come. Compared with the $40,000 10-Mbps microwave links I once installed, you can get up to seven times more bandwidth for about one-quarter the cost. And the real kicker is you don't need to get the FCC involved for a sight plan, a tedious governmental process we endured to make sure our planned microwave path didn't shoot through someone's window or mess with our business neighbor's link, which was a real possibility in the congested airways above the city. Nowadays, you just open the boxes and plug them in. Sure, they need to point in the right direction, but believe me, these things are a breeze to install.

The WAN Police

Now that I've shown my age, I have a few comments about WAN traffic shapers or, as I like to call them, the WAN police. Associate technology editor Mike DeMaria tested five products that can control the who, what, where and when of your company's WAN link usage. Why let Earl the accountant hog your WAN links, most likely the priciest links in your network, with general ledger data when you could be playing Half-Life across the Internet? Buy a traffic shaper and you can tune the dial to your liking, giving "special users" a performance boost if they're willing to pay a small handling fee. Find a way to justify this technology for your site and prevent the abuse and misuse of your WAN links by, dare I say, businesspeople.

Mike pulled a double-shift this issue by also writing our workshop on Web site benchmarking. If it's your job to keep a site running at top speed, check out the tips he provides. There are plenty of technologies you can buy to make your site hum, such as caches, load-balancers and SSL accelerators. It's all great stuff, but don't spend a dime until you document how things run today in your organization. Too many people skip the benchmarking stage when launching a Web site or application, and the mistake usually comes back to haunt them. Think about it, how do you know when things are performing badly if you don't even know when they're performing well?

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