Deep packet inspection helps solve videoconferencing woes

Deep packet inspection helps solve videoconferencing woes

School found it had to re-evaluate its WAN management vendor

Ball State University in the US seems to have solved some videoconferencing problems by installing a new deep-packet inspection device.

The university, with 18,000 students and employees, has been using videoconferencing for three years to fulfill a variety of needs, including presenting lectures involving groups as far away as South Korea and Australia, said enterprise network engineer Chris Cahoe.

"Videoconferencing has become a necessary application that has to be working," he said.

The problem at Ball State was that students and faculty were becoming more dependent on videoconferencing sessions, but packets were being dropped and placed out of order, "which is especially not good for videoconferencing," Cahoe explained in an interview last week.

Polycom videoconferencing gear was being used, but the packet losses were traced to traffic management software from Packeteer Inc. After researching several products, including Packeteer's updates and Cisco Systems's Service Control Engine, Cahoe said the university tested Allot Communications' NetEnforcer AC-1020 management device in August 2006. The networking staff found that the Allot product dropped perhaps one out of millions of packets transmitted.

Ball State then implemented deep-packet inspection technology from NetEnforcer at a price "well under US$100,000," Cahoe said. That cost still was slightly less than that for alternative products, he said.

The NetEnforcer technology allows Ball State to identify all the applications running on the network and then to prioritize uses. That way, videoconferencing and VoIP can be given the highest priority, following Web traffic and email.

NetEnforcer enables Ball State to set minimum bandwidths for certain groups, based on 1Gbps overall throughput, Cahoe said. If a maximum is going to be reached, he or others in IT can be notified.

The implementation, now over a year old, has been a success, Cahoe said. "Our overall performance previously was a 3 out of 10, and now it's closer to a 9," he said.

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