Investcorp is a leading provider and manager of alternative investment products for private high net worth and institutional clients, mainly based in the Middle East. Its unique model means it doesn't typically invest in funds but its primary focus is on individual deals. What it actually does is buy companies and give its clients the opportunity to invest in them. This has a higher level of risk than the typical fund model but the potential rewards are considerably higher for high net worth investors.
When you're responsible for investing other people's money, as Investcorp is, your systems have to be totally secure. That means not only ensuring security of the data but also being able to guarantee continuity of processing. It was the latter area where the company perceived a potential problem so it turned to Sangfor to solve it.
Global Processing Centres
The operation of Investcorp is supported from an office in Bahrain that mainly handles the financial side, London and New York offices that carry out the deals and a smaller office in Saudi Arabia. The Bahrain data centre stores all the client account data and hosts the application software.
“We have a lot of in-house developed applications plus some standard packages,” explains Head of Technology Mike Samatos. “The core banking system is the one that’s primarily utilized by the London and New York users. Apart from that, when the users are travelling between the three offices, we use Citrix.”
Investcorp isn't a retail bank and so doesn't have the need to constantly process ATM withdrawals and similar transactions. However, being able to make payments and remain operational is critical to the business and an extended down-time would be a serious problem. The general belief is that a day's system down-time is the maximum the business can stand.
With Bahrain being an island and distant offices to be supported, the biggest threat is a loss of telecommunications. In order to ensure business continuity and to safeguard against possible disasters, it was decided to replicate all the Bahrain systems to London. That way, processing could simply be switched there in the event of problems in Bahrain. The big challenge, as Mike recounts, was the volume of data involved:
“We're probably looking at an average of 48-50 gigabytes a day, which is actually a very large amount to get across a four megabits per second pipe.”
Seeking Practical Solutions
In effect, what was required couldn’t be done with the existing set-up but, if it wasn't done, the company was at risk. Increasing the bandwidth, however, wasn't a practicable option.
“It’s not like transatlantic communication,” comments Mike. “It’s the same sort of distance but it’s ten times the cost from the Middle East as from London to New York. Increasing by a modest amount is an enormous price difference and there comes a point when latency becomes an issue and you won’t get the sort of throughput you require.”
So Investcorp looked for other solutions and set a number of criteria that each had to be satisfied. The first of these was no interference with the Citrix environment and possibly acceleration of it in some way. Anything installed also had to be easy to administer and enable the application of quality of service roles. The final requirement was that it provided caching functionality so duplicate data didn't need to be replicated.
The only really feasible solution was a WAN optimisation product and Investcorp looked at several of these. In the end, according to Mike, Sangfor won out on several counts:
“The pricing was certainly one of the reasons I contacted Sangfor. But, after speaking to them, there was the fact that it was easy for us to arrange a proof of concept. It was a case that if we didn’t get the benefits, there would be no cost to us. We could prove that we could get what we wanted and, if we didn’t, there was no harm but they worked with us to try and find a solution that benefited us.”
Assistance and Support
The distance posed no problems for the installation, with Investcorp providing a diagram of its infrastructure, with preconfigured boxes sent to London and Bahrain, which it then installed. Plenty of assistance was available from Sangfor so any small obstacles that came up initially were worked through and everything was set up remotely. Even the fact that Investcorp in Bahrain works on an Islamic calendar and there are time differences was no great complication, with several calls to support people in the UK and Hong Kong and work carried out on a Saturday or a Sunday.
The company installed wano units in Bahrain and London, quickly meeting its requirements of achieving data reduction, prioritising traffic and improving quality of service. The replication of a 4.5 gigabyte virtual hard disk file, for example, dropped from four hours to just 37 minutes due to compression and caching technologies meaning only 550 megabytes had to be transferred across the WAN.
“The initial requirement and the first and most important part of the puzzle was achieved very quickly,” says Mike. “We had to run the equipment in parallel to see what sort of benefit we were gaining. Once we saw that and were confident with that, it was just a simple case of turning it on and watching it do its stuff and that’s more or less what happened. We have been able to improve our business because the way we had our infrastructure meant we would have had to in some circumstances restore from tape. Now it is close to real time replication and that is only achievable by having the Sangfor WAN optimisation product.”
“We have been able to improve our business because the way we had our infrastructure meant we would have had to in some circumstances restore from tape. Now it is close to real time replication and that is only achievable by having the Sangfor WAN optimisation product.”
Since the initial successful implementation, there has been some customization and tweaking. The infrastructure is quite complex, as is what Investcorp wants to do, so there's a lot of testing going on and a new software version is due to be released. The second stage is optimization of the Citrix type of traffic as well as the optimization of traffic through remote access. The final scenario is an important one because there are some remote offices that connect using Citrix and the aim is to consider connecting them using a VPN but have it optimized in a way that allows remote users to be connected to the network full time.
In terms of Sangfor equipment, the next step is likely to be an installation at the New York office and then at the smaller Saudi office. However, Mike is more than satisfied with what has been achieved so far. He says:
“In terms of bang for the buck, it’s been fantastic. We are thrilled with what we have managed to achieve for the cost and the amount of time it’s taken for us to get it in place.”
A Sangfor WAN optimizer is installed at the Bahrain data center and London office.
- Cost-effective alternative
- Highly resilient and flexible
- Full unified bandwidth management
- Data caching and compression
- Simple drop-in deployment
- Opportunity to trial.