Shoring up SharePoint
The Citrix NetScaler and Nortel ACEdirector boxes also worked well -- for the most part. "They had issues with specific test cases, where we couldn't get them to perform in our environment," Dunn says, noting that SharePoint was a key stumbling block.
After weeks of testing, the F5 box came out on top. "We were really impressed by the flexibility of the platform to address a wide variety of requirements," Dunn says, noting that F5 has partnered with Microsoft to better support SharePoint. The BigIP box also lets users build customized programs, called iRules, to handle unique load balancing and content management scenarios.
That's a feature most other devices lack, he says. "Usually, you're picking from a drop-down list of things the designers have thought you might want to do. But you always run into a case they haven't thought of. With the F5's iRules interface, you don't have that problem," Dunn says.
With the F5 box in place, First Command has improved page load times by 25%, with minimal tuning. And now that F5 has integrated Symphoniq's TRUE customer experience monitor, tuning the box to garner further improvements should be easier.
In a load balanced environment, Dunn says it's typically difficult for a monitoring application to follow the path of a session through the load balancer to determine where it goes in the back-end server environment. "[Symphoniq lets us get a browser to server view of that performance," he says.
Dunn says First Command is already seeing a return on its investment. "It lets us use our existing infrastructure more effectively, through taking the extra load off our Web infrastructure and moving it up into the application acceleration layer," he says. "So now, we can offer more services and applications, if not for less, then at least for the same amount."
He also says the F5 box lets First Command be more proactive in terms of troubleshooting and capacity planning. "That's a hallmark of the newer devices, having a very well-thought-out and available reporting interface," he says, noting that both F5 and NetScaler offer good reporting. "It lets you understand exactly what's happening and then do appropriate capacity planning. You don't have to just buy bandwidth and buy servers, guessing at what's going to solve the problem. That saves some money in the long run."
But the biggest return is in improved customer satisfaction, especially in today's uncertain economy. "Any time you have a down market like this, you need to make sure you're addressing your customers' needs, giving them the information they need to make good financial decisions and allowing your advisors to present the best, most professional services to their customers," Dunn says. "People have a lot of choices in financial services and we want to make sure we're representing our offering in the absolute best way possible. And this helps."
Cummings is a freelance writer in the US. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.