How has it helped my organization?
We are a small team. As much as we can automate, that is what we need to do. Between the Exinda appliance and our firewall, we put policies into place. If they need to be adjusted later on, that is great.
With Exinda, I log into it at least once a day, though I'm not on it all day long. We have reports automated to show usage. So, we can adjust that. We look at overall bandwidth, what's actually coming through, and how much of that is actually being prioritized.
The solution allows us to focus on application performance, rather than just “throttling” traffic and bandwidth. When I do this, I'll put an app out there just to peek here and there. For example, there is an application that our football team uses called "Huddle", which they use for scouting. They will also post their practices there. So, this is an essential tool that they use. When it's performing, it is all streaming video. and I keep watch over it.
For athletics' streaming video, we do have a custom app that we put in there to monitor performance. It is cool that you can actually put a custom app in there. It's not just all the predefined stuff; you can create your own applications and monitor them. I don't do a whole lot of that, but I do it a little bit of it.
Exinda has enabled us to gain control over our network traffic. I don't know how I would control it otherwise. You can do some basic stuff, e.g., at the firewall level or switch level, where you can do quality of service. However, that doesn't touch on the granularity that you get with an optimizer, like Exinda, which allows you to go in there and and look at ranges of IP addresses. In my network, I have certain ranges for certain machines, e.g., classrooms fall in this range, my faculty and staff might fall on another range, and then students fall into another range. You can identify based on location essentially, then pull those computers out and give them priority. So, I know that during the day my classrooms will take priority. So, I'll just pull out that entire network range and bump it up a bit. That is something that we use it for a lot.
I use Exinda's dashboard to see what’s happening on our network. It allows us to look at our top applications, like the most prioritized and used applications, and look at what they are doing. For example, our current top applications are:
- PlayStation Network
- Amazon Prime Video
It really gives us an idea of what students are actually using. We can trend applications, and say, "This is what they're using today."
It used to be where everybody was downloading MP3s and movie files, now not so much. We only allocate a certain amount of bandwidth for that now, because torrenting invites a lot of sketchy stuff, like malware, which you do not want on your network. Aside from that, we are not allowing torrenting to take priority. If you don't want something there, you can even go ahead and drop the traffic as well. Though, I don't like using it so much like a firewall, then dropping the traffic.
We look at traffic patterns or how much it's being utilized during the day. You can definitely see in the morning that traffic is at an all time low. I have maybe 150 MB coming across my network, because early morning is just classroom activity. You're really only using the network for what is needed. If we don't have all the entertainment stuff and it was just simply work-related and academic-related, then we wouldn't really need that much bandwidth at all. However, as the day goes on, it'll get up between 500 to 800 MB. So, it'll get pretty high.
We can also kind of look at our utilization during the day. I've used it before to make a decision on when is the best time to reboot network equipment, e.g., when are the fewest number of users going to be on the network. You get kind of creative with how you can use it, because now you're looking at utilization to start planning and your work maintenance.
What is most valuable?
It has the ability to prioritize, providing an automatic optimization. I can put it in a hierarchy and know that certain devices will be prioritized over others. It is able to identify the traffic. It can pick out whether if its a Zoom meeting (or something like that), then it's able to put that somewhere in the hierarchy based on the traffic type.
Exinda allows us to see what is happening with our network and apps. I use it for that somewhat. For example, if someone calls in, and say, "Hey, I'm having a problem with this. It's not performing very well." We can identify where the traffic is going and what kind of a policy it is falling into, which has been really helpful. It has enabled us to put directed and auto-pilot management mechanisms in place, based on best practices. Unless we have to touch it, it is set and forget for us.
Having the daily report able to look at and reference is a good feature. I know in the past that has given us some use cases. For example, we have so much traffic coming through that you can see the breakdown all day, e.g., how much is actually being used by academic applications. This sort of gives justification to what you are doing when you see a whole bunch of entertainment type stuff coming through. People might say, "Hey, I was in class today and performance was not as good as it should be." I will be like, "Well, let's look at what's happening." Then, you look and the majority of the network has been taken over by PlayStation and Xbox. If I put in another policy, then it should take care of performance issue.
It's an invaluable tool. You need to have some kind of insight into what your users are doing on the network. If we had unlimited bandwidth to let people do whatever they wanted to, that would be great. However, the reality of it is, you don't have that and you need to prioritize.
You can allocate either a certain amount of bandwidth or just allocate a priority. I can take away bandwidth from rogue applications, if I'm like, "Hey, that's not really necessary that they have all this bandwidth for some crazy application out there where you have one or two users." I can go ahead and give that a lower priority and lower amount of bandwidth, decreasing the cap. That way, the applications that I want to take precedence can take the bandwidth that they need.
I do like is the recommendations on the dashboard when you log in, where it tells you, "This application is approaching the top 10 for the first time in seven days," or whatever. Then, it's like, "Let's see if I need a policy for that." For example:
- Is it something that's going to be ongoing?
- Do I need to do something for it?
- Or, is it just kind of a fluke thing that will get a lot of traffic, then it's going to die off?
- Why is it getting the top traffic? Is it an update that's going out?
It's kind of cool that you can see that.
What needs improvement?
Creating the custom application is a bit awkward. I kind of have to guess my way through it sometimes.
A lot of working with this solution is really intuitive. I have picked it up mostly on my own. I'm sure that there are some things that maybe I hadn't thought of or really hadn't considered, and I think it would be good just to promote some day courses. I don't really see a whole lot that comes out for Exinda as far as training or informational sessions through our normal resellers. It would be cool to know more about the solution by utilizing educational resources or even have Exinda promoted a bit better.
For how long have I used the solution?
We have been using it for six to eight years. We have been through two iterations of the Exinda appliance, because we upgraded it at one point and just kept it up. The last major upgrade was four or five years ago.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
It is pretty stable. Every now and then, you have to go in and restart services because the dashboards won't just churn data, but it's still prioritizing and working in the background. I can see it working. That's the only thing that I've really had to go in there and do.
Normally, I have a mission when I go into it, as it is a lot just to open it up and look at a bunch of random stuff, like an internal IP, etc. I can check, and say, "Okay, let's see what so-and-so is doing because they said that whatever they're using, website or whatever, is not working. Or, they can't get to it." So, I'll make sure that the traffic is even making it this far to the edge of the network. Then, I'll look at, "Well, what kind of performance is it actually getting? What's the transfer rate? What is the outside IP address that it's trying to go to?" If I see that it's trying to go somewhere, but it can't, then from there, I'm like, "Well, let's check the firewall to see if I got some kind of a rule in there that might be stopping it."
It gives you kind of a roadmap to do that. If there is some sort of low performance, then I'll go in, and say, "What kind of a rule do I have? Do I need a better rule? Do I need to set something in there?" If someone is saying that they can't watch a Facebook video or get to Instagram, then do I have a policy in there for it?
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
It scales out with what you have. I haven't really had any reason to scale it up. We're not really seeing huge jumps to where we would have to accommodate so much extra bandwidth. Our appliance right now would go and accommodate up to three gigs, so it's got plenty of room for growth. Therefore, I don't foresee any major leaps and bounds in network utilization. It stays pretty consistent and there is plenty of room for growth. With all that we're throwing at it right now, we have not seen any major jumps with all the streaming usage, conference software, etc. It seems to be handling that pretty well.
We're not at peak capacity on how much traffic it can handle. We have a lot of room for growth on our level of clients. So, I think it is pretty scalable. It gives you a pretty good range.
How are customer service and technical support?
I talked to them before about the issue of data not being available. They talked me through going in and just restarting the services, because every now and then, it does it. They were really good about that. Aside from that, I have talked to them before about building a policy for an application. However, I haven't had to contact support for anything major. They were pretty responsive. Overall, they answered my questions. It was a positive experience.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We were using an old Packeteer PacketShaper way back in the day. Exinda approached optimization a bit differently. We were able to prioritize the stuff that we needed on campus. I can remember back when downloads were pretty heavy. This was before streaming really took off. People were downloading and torrenting movies. So, we used it to squash all that to optimize and prioritize our traffic for classroom use. On a college campus, you're pretty much an ISP because you have residents that live there.
There is a fine balance between things that people need and things that they want. Obviously, if we let them, students would be on Xbox all day long and that would take over the network. Then, at night, once classes are over, we use some time-based rules. However, we do keep some rules up there above everything, like our classroom podiums, which we know need to be optimized pretty much around the clock.
When we had PacketShaper, we had a couple of T1 lines at the time. It did some pretty cool things. Our network admin was able to shape the traffic for certain times of the day by cutting out a lot of the downloads. At a certain times, the traffic would just open up. Then, at the end of the day, it was like, "Wow, everybody is just taking over the network after hours." Nowadays, you can't even do that.
Where we used to have just the standard daytime workload of classes, we have now a Fall semester, a Winter term, a Spring semester, a May term, a June term, and experiential term with classes that go all day long and running around the clock. Since COVID-19 hit, you have traffic coming over from the dorms, which now includes some classroom/classwork activity, where most of it was traditionally just entertainment. Now all of a sudden, since classrooms are just kind of all over the place, you have some classes that are online only and some that are in person with some of them being a hybrid of the two. With students taking classes from their dorm room, there has been an emphasis from our administration on making sure that students are able to get to what they need.
It used to be that if a switch or something failed over in a dorm, if we could get to it and have it up within the day, then we were good. Now, it's like a catastrophe because it's just like a class being down. If we have someone over in a dorm who is unable to stream their class over Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc., then that is seen as major and important. Looking at the application performance as a whole across campus, it's like the classroom could technically be anywhere now. You have to make sure that those applications are going to work regardless of where they're coming from.
Compared to some of the stuff that I've used a decade ago, the Exinda solution is night and day. It gives you more from a cost perspective. I've priced out some other solutions, and Exinda was a bit more reasonable priced than a lot of the competition in my opinion.
How was the initial setup?
This solution was already in place when I took it. There was already a lot there.
Its updates are really straightforward and managing it is also really straightforward and simple. I have really no complaints there. The only thing that you really have to do is rack it, connect it, and do the setup. Outside of that, there is creating the policies, which is really straightforward.
If I have a new appliance, I can unboxed it and set it up. then be up and running in a day. It is pretty straightforward. As you go, you watch the traffic and build policies around what you see.
Virtually no staff is required for day-to-day maintenance. Now and then, I'll look in there, and I'll say, "Oh, yeah. Well, there's an update." So, I plan now around after hours to install updates because I will need to reboot the thing. Aside from that, there's not really a whole lot of maintenance on the appliance itself. It's more just watching the policies, e.g., you can watch a real-time monitor.
What was our ROI?
It has been awhile since we have had an upgrade in bandwidth. We find that the solution basically keeps everything in check. Two years ago, we decided that we were spending a lot of money on cable. We went out there and polled the students whether they watch TV or not. By looking at Exinda, I could see that I had several terabytes worth of Netflix coming across the network. I could see that they were already subscribing to Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and YouTube TV. I'm like, "Wow. They're already using all these services anyway." So, we made the decision to go ahead and turn off cable TV. Because when they say they're watching TV, they're subscribing to their services and using the bandwidth anyway. We were able to get some savings there by disconnecting traditional cable service and focusing our efforts more on just delivering content digitally and Internet-based. Because of that kind of visibility, it gave us real insight into what students were doing in their dorm rooms.
If I don't have to keep on upping my bandwidth every single year as applications become more media intense, then in the long run, we see savings. I've talked to some other more well-endowed schools who are able to throw all kinds of bandwidth at it. They have a crazy amount. While we do have to be a bit more intentional about what we're doing, I can say, confidently, based on the traffic that we don't need any more bandwidth right now. Compression rates are getting better too. As far as budget planning, we're in a great place. We don't have to even consider increasing our bandwidth. As a result of this, it does save you money over time. You're making informed decisions; it's not guessing.
IT spends a lot of money on technology, but it's across the business. If you don't have it, you're not competitive. Your returns are a lot of soft returns, because you're able to provide a necessary service, and because of that, your people are happier. You're spending less than you would have because you're managing the problem, not just throwing money at it.
I know that there is a savings. I know what it cost to subscribe to another several gig of bandwidth. When you're paying that monthly fee of $6,000 to $8,000, depending on who you go with a month for a gig of data, it can get expensive.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
The pricing and licensing are pretty fair and really competitive. There are other SD-WAN solutions that are pretty costly because they build in a service where they'll manage it for you, which is really great. I don't know if Exinda has that option as well. However, we are a small shop and cost-conscious. For things like this, we are accustomed to self-managing and this solution suits us just fine. For a tool that gives you, like the graphs and reporting, it has a fair price point.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
While I have looked at some other solutions, Exinda has been pretty on point for what you get and what it costs.
What other advice do I have?
What it does is an essential thing. I rely on it to be automated. We use it for everything. It has definitely met our needs and helped us control traffic flow. We get a great picture of what's going on across network applications. It has allowed us to keep tabs on network performance.
I would definitely size your appliance with a little room to grow. You don't know where you're going to be, e.g., you could have an explosion in technology a year from now.
When you manage your traffic, then you can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less. It's just like anything, if you manage it well, then it will work well. That's the big takeaway.
We get a good picture of what people are using and our technologies right now, which is really important. It is very interesting just to watch and see the types of applications and devices that the younger generations are using. When you have a better idea of what their needs are and their needs are met, it's a better overall experience for them.
I would rate this solution as a 10 out of 10.
Which deployment model are you using for this solution?