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U.S. Federal Agency Boosts Web Portal Performance and Availability, Cuts Costs with F5 Solution

A large U.S. federal agency was faced with high maintenance costs and sluggish performance of its customer-facing web portal. Multiple point solutions deployed to support the portal had made the infrastructure complex, expensive, and difficult to manage—and it still failed to deliver the performance and reliability the agency needed.

After deploying an F5 solution, performance improved dramatically, and with a simplified infrastructure, the agency was able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual support and training costs. The solution provides multi-site failover capability, further boosting the agency’s ability to meet the needs of constituents.

Business Challenges

A large federal agency within the U.S. Department of Treasury was unable to sustain the continually rising cost of managing its customer-facing web portal and the applications and data on which it relied. The portal serves hundreds of thousands of users, including businesses, nonprofits, government entities, and individuals. The site contains a wealth of information and offers multiple tools to help users accomplish their goals with the agency.

Over the years, the agency had integrated multiple load balancing solutions into the environment to provide the system availability and quick response time needed to serve its users, both internal and external.  Eventually, however, the agency found it extremely difficult and inefficient to manage the wide range of solutions and to train administrators on each. In addition, the quality of customer support had plummeted as the original vendors of these solutions were acquired by other companies.

Ultimately, the legacy load balancers were unable to support the increasing traffic on the portal or provide the level of security mandated by emerging federal regulatory requirements. A slowdown or all out failure of this high-profile web portal would have a significant negative impact on the public and its perception of the agency.

One option was for the agency to outsource management of its portal to a service provider, but the estimated cost was prohibitive. “We needed a vendor whose technology goes beyond that of traditional load balancers,” said a network engineer within the agency, who also played a central role in the selection process. “We were looking for advanced platform functionality to intelligently handle the technology and security requirements coming down the pipeline,” he noted, referring to the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) mandate required by the Office of Management and Budget.

“Since we deployed the F5 solution, we have had no application issues due to load balancing. It has made our lives easier.” Network Engineer at a major U.S. federal agency

Solution

The agency’s search led to F5 and its BIG-IP family of advanced Application Delivery Controllers. F5 BIG-IP devices could easily meet the agency’s performance and security requirements, including providing support for IPv6, securing the DNS infrastructure, and meeting FIPS and NEBS standards.

The agency chose a solution based on F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM), deployed on twelve BIG-IP 8900 devices and fourteen BIG-IP 6900 devices. Both models comply with FIPS 140-2 Level 2 requirements. The BIG-IP 6900 devices are also NEBS-compliant.

BIG-IP LTM intelligently manages network traffic and delivers high performance, security, and availability, and it has the unique ability to support multiple functions on a single unified platform. To the high-performance BIG-IP devices, the agency also added BIG-IP WebAccelerator and BIG-IP WAN Optimization Manager, which together speed application delivery to remote and mobile users as well as between data centers. An added benefit of the BIG-IP product family is that it natively supports IPv6, so all product modules are IPv6-compliant.

To manage traffic across multiple sites and ensure global availability of critical system services such as DNS, the agency uses BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM), deployed on three BIG-IP 3900 devices. Finally, by using the BIG-IP Enterprise Manager 4000 centralized management device, the agency now has complete visibility into its entire application delivery infrastructure as well as monitoring tools that provide detailed information for optimizing performance and availability.

“Since we deployed the F5 solution, we have had no application issues due to load balancing. It has made our lives easier.” Network Engineer at a major U.S. federal agency

Benefits

The benefits to the agency of the F5 solution have been dramatic, including significantly improved uptime, higher customer satisfaction, and the ability to recover quickly in the event of a hardware failure. For the first time, the agency has multi-site failover capabilities, and it is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in training costs.

Enhanced performance

“Since we deployed the F5 solution, we have had no application issues due to load balancing. It has made our lives easier, and we directly attribute this to the advanced functionality the F5 devices provide,” said the network engineer. In addition, the integrated acceleration and optimization capabilities of the BIG-IP devices have streamlined application delivery for users accessing materials from a variety of devices and remote locations.

Higher customer satisfaction

Faster, more consistent performance means the public can find the information it needs and complete transactions quickly and with fewer interruptions. This increases users’ satisfaction with the portal and improves their impression of the agency.

Higher customer satisfaction also translates to fewer demands on IT for customer service and support efforts. Since deploying the F5 solution, the number of Tier One trouble tickets—those requiring an immediate response—has fallen by 80 percent.

Improved availability with multi-site failover

Because the agency now has F5 BIG-IP devices deployed in all three of its data centers, applications can easily be failed over from one site to another, if necessary. As a result, service outages can be resolved quickly with no impact to the users. “The deployment of the F5 BIG-IP devices gives us a redundant geographical site for failover,” says the network engineer. “If one site goes down, one of the other sites can pick up the added demand. That alone is making people very, very happy.”

Reduced training and support costs

The agency is saving several hundred thousand dollars per year because its staff can now be trained on just one system as opposed to multiple vendors’ solutions. By implementing F5’s unified platform approach across multiple data centers and departments, the agency’s staff in one data center can resolve a problem in another, helping reduce support and maintenance costs.