When users at Perini complained earlier this year about slow performance when using critical hosted project management software, IT managers scratched their heads and undertook a little detective work.

"Truthfully, when people say the Internet is slow, you have no idea what's going on," says Kim Holden, the global construction company's IT director. "There are a lot of finger-pointing exercises."

More than 250 workers at Perini's corporate headquarters in Massachusetts use Primavera Systems' Expedition project management software. It is hosted by application service provider LoadSpring Solutions on servers accessed over T1 links in a WAN.

"With third-party hosting, you're never sure if the problem is on their end, so you have to eliminate some of the causes and make sure you're not just shooting in the dark," Holden says. Expedition, widely used in the construction industry, wasn't considered the culprit.

To find and fix the problem, Perini's small IT staff first considered using intrusion-detection software and then eyed packet shaping to improve network performance. The staff decided instead to use traffic management software, choosing Converted Traffic Manager (CTM) from Converged Access.

Holden says the CTM software can create traffic categories based on business priorities, a key requirement for her group.

Setting Priorities
The software, installed in August for less than $10,000, prioritises WAN traffic based on Perini's list of the most critical traffic streams. E-mail and voice over IP (VoIP) between the various Perini offices around the world were judged to be the highest priority. FTP traffic was given a medium to low priority, and the lowest priority was given to user access to Internet radio sites, Holden says.

"We discovered people were listening to radio online more than I thought, and that was taking most of the traffic," she adds.

Once Internet radio traffic was relegated to the lowest priority, its performance dropped, as did the number of people listening to it.

"I didn't have to slap anybody's hands and say, 'No, you can't listen to Internet radio,'" Holden says. In fact, users simply stopped using Internet radio when performance lagged.

"We haven't heard a 'boo' from anybody since CTM was put in place," Holden says, noting that her staff no longer must spend significant time logging complaints into the project management software.

Perini is considering using other Converged Access products next year to compress VoIP traffic between global offices, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and several US locations, she adds.

The market for WAN traffic management is growing, since customers can see sizeable results from a relatively small investment, according to Matthias Machowinski, an analyst at Infonetics.

The market for such products is small compared with the overall routing market and is currently valued in the "low hundreds" of millions of dollars annually, he says.

Other companies offering such tools include Packeteer, Allot Communications, Expand, Peribit, which was recently purchased by Juniper, and Swan Labs, recently purchased by F5 Networks.