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Lebanese Internet Service Provider prepares for growth with F5 VIPRION platform

As the leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Lebanon, IDM provides Internet access for 60% of the country’s corporate market and over 50% of the consumer market.  It chose F5® VIPRION® to scale up its network and deliver a high quality online experience for growing numbers of subscribers. 

F5 VIPRION is rich in features. It offers us a lot of extras, which were not part of our original specification, and these added capabilities are enabling us to make unexpected but very welcome cost and time savings. Samar Khalil, network management department director, IDM

Business Challenges

Internet use is mounting rapidly in Lebanon, with increasing numbers of individuals and businesses going online.  IDM wanted to capitalise on this market growth and steadily increase the number web caches in its IT infrastructure to build network capacity ahead of demand.  However, like all growing ISPs, IDM was running out of public IPv4 addresses and needed a solution that could efficiently perform Network Address Translation (NAT) on subscriber addresses.

As one of several Lebanese ISPs, IDM also needed to gain an edge on the competition.   In particular, it wanted to offer a consistently excellent service to its subscribers, including high availability and fast page loads.  What is more, the company had to be able to operate cost efficiently, to enable it to offer competitive packages for customers.  

We chose F5’s VIPRION 2400 solution because it offered all the capabilities we were expecting – and more. Manele El Khoury, network operation centre manager, IDM

Solution

IDM began to look for a robust, multi-functional product, capable of load balancing increased volumes of traffic across its web caches – and the company was highly diligent in its search.  Its previous load balancing devices had failed to live up to expectations, so it wanted to make absolutely certain that the new solution would meet all business requirements.

Over a period of months, IDM conducted extensive trials of F5’s application delivery control platform, both in test environments and within its own network.  The thoroughness of the evaluation instilled confidence that it was making the right decision.  “We chose F5’s VIPRION 2400 platform because it offered all the capabilities we were expecting – and more,” says Manele El Khoury, network operation centre manager at IDM.

According to El Khoury, IDM found it easy to implement the F5 VIPRION platform and get it up and running within its core IT infrastructure.  “We did most of the installation ourselves, but F5’s Professional Services team provided us with some support at a both a high level and at the design level,” she explains.  “The F5 technical engineer who worked with us was outstanding.”

Benefits

VIPRION has been a welcome addition to IDM’s network infrastructure, improving the company’s ability to handle increased traffic, deliver a quality user experience and operate cost effectively. 

Greater scalability 

The modular nature of VIPRION means that IDM can easily increase the power and throughput of its F5 platform as its business and traffic grows.   When needed, it can simply add further blades to add capacity, without the need to upgrade the device, redesign its network or reconfigure its traffic settings.  IDM can therefore respond quickly and flexibly to increases in customer demand, without any risk of network disruption.  

The company plans to grow its capacity significantly in the near future, but it can easily accommodate this expansion using F5.    “We can seamlessly add a new cache in one click on the F5 platform.  We don’t have to change anything at the network level.  This is definitely something we couldn’t do before,” says El Khoury.

A quality customer experience 

By directing traffic intelligently, based on content, VIPRION distributes user requests to the caches that will offer the best performance.  It minimises latency and optimises routing to help IDM deliver a higher quality of service for its customers.

IDM’s previous load balancing system didn’t give the company the network stability that it needed.  In contrast, the F5 platform is highly robust, with built-in resilience and redundancy that together ensure the high availability of IDM’s Internet services.    

The F5 platform also includes TCP optimisation capabilities which can be enabled to enhance the browsing experience and facilitate faster download speeds.  Samar Khalil, network management department director at IDM comments: “F5 enables us to deliver a quality experience for our customers, by giving the best response from the best available cache.  We are currently evaluating F5’s TCP optimisation capabilities and expect this feature to allow us to deliver an even better user experience in the future.”

Reduced bandwidth costs

International bandwidth is a significant cost for ISPs in Lebanon, so even a modest reduction in bandwidth usage can make a huge difference to operating costs. 

By using F5 in front of its web caches, IDM has been able to make an additional bandwidth saving in its caching infrastructure, when compared to the previous load balancing product used by the company.  This reduction in bandwidth has delivered a significant cost saving and gives IDM a strategic advantage in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.   

Khalil says: “F5 VIPRION is rich in features.  It offers us a lot of extras, which were not part of our original specification, and these added capabilities are enabling us to make unexpected but very welcome cost and time savings.”

Improved network management

The versatility and flexibility of the F5 platform gives IDM far greater control over its network operations.  In particular, the company makes extensive use of F5 iRules® to dynamically route traffic according to changing business requirements.

With increasing numbers of subscribers, IDM was running out of public IP addresses and needed a flexible solution to NAT subscribers’ private IPv4 addresses into public IPv4 addresses.  F5 VIPRION offers them exactly this capability, by performing Carrier Grade NAT with flexible customisation while maintaining stability and performance.

iRules has been instrumental in helping IDM to customise the behaviour  of NAT functionality by basing it on several criteria like protocol used, source and/or destination IP addresses.  For example, IDM is able to NAT https traffic behind a specific IP subnet and treat this traffic uniquely.  This flexibility was lacking from a simple router and firewall-based NAT solution.

Often, ISPs find it hard to perform logging and keep track of NAT sessions.  However, F5’s built-in High Speed Logging feature allows IDM to tailor the logging functionality to its needs by customising the log messages to include different parameters.  This is of huge benefit to the organisation.

The network operations team at IDM finds the F5 platform very easy to use, while El Khoury recognises that the solution saves her a considerable amount of time.  She declares: “F5 improves network operations, while giving us all the technical benefits we wanted.”