Commercial Real Estate Deal-maker Streamlines Connectivity to Data Center and Cloud Applications

HFF eliminates problematic network disruptions and boosts available bandwidth 70 percent with Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform

In the commercial real estate business, a capital intermediary is often the lynchpin to achieving successful transactions “We help buyers find properties that best match their needs, and bring property sellers to well-suited buyers, while also lining up appropriate sources of capital to finance the deal,” says Zerin Dube, Engineering Director at HFF, one of the largest and most successful commercial real estate capital intermediaries in the U.S. and western Europe.

At the heart of HFF’s business is an internally developed, centrally run application called CapTrack, which manages every detail associated with each real estate transaction. In addition, associates across the firm’s 26 offices rely on a growing number of SaaS applications, including Microsoft Office 365, Box, Salesforce, and a hosted help desk application called Zendesk.

HFF eliminates problematic network disruptions and boosts available bandwidth 70 percent with Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform

Historically, HFF’s wide-area network (WAN) had a single MPLS-based IP-VPN circuit at each office to connect to its two data centers. Bandwidth at remote sites was limited—40 Mbps in most cases— due to the high cost of the service. And what’s worse, the national, top-tier IP-VPN provider HFF used had long installation lead times, and chronic reliability problems, which would result in the carrier having system-wide outages on a fairly regular basis.

Adam Cammack, Systems Architect at HFF, notes, “Provider outages would take down one or more of our offices for hours at a time. During that downtime, associates were unable to access CapTrack to do their jobs, and were essentially dead in the water. It was truly frustrating.”

We recognized with tunnel bonding and SaaS optimization that EdgeConnect could solve our WAN reliability problems and provide all this added value on top, which gave us a path to the future.”
— Zerin Dube, Engineering Director, HFF

Finding the right SD-WAN solution

Dube and his team wanted a way to add performance and resiliency to HFF’s network, while gaining the flexibility to bring in best-of-class carriers in any given market. The goal was to add features while reducing operating cost—a perfect fit for SD-WAN. The team researched various SD-WAN solutions on the market, but when local partner, Waypoint Solutions, introduced them to the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect™ SD-WAN edge platform, they didn’t look any further.

Cammack remarks, “The capabilities I saw in EdgeConnect were pretty spectacular. We were impressed that we could build tunnels across our existing IP-VPN, as well as commercial internet links from the best carriers in each market where we operate, without being tied to a single provider. We didn’t have to throw anything away or rearchitect our network.”

HFF

Dube adds, “We recognized with tunnel bonding and SaaS optimization that EdgeConnect could solve our WAN reliability problems and provide all this added value on top, which gave us a path to the future.”

EdgeConnect eliminates network reliability problems

Today, HFF has deployed EdgeConnect appliances at 30 physical sites including its two data centers and all branch offices. Typical edge configurations include the existing 40 Mbps IP-VPN connections bonded with 100+ Mbps symmetric commercial internet circuits. In addition, the firm has deployed virtual EdgeConnect appliances in two public cloud environments, AWS and Microsoft Azure.

HFF takes full advantage of EdgeConnect features including business intent overlays, SaaS optimization, path conditioning, dynamic path control, and quality of service. The firm also uses the optional Unity Boost™ WAN optimization performance pack to accelerate applications such as CapTrack— especially important for overcoming latency issues for remote users in Europe. In addition, the EdgeConnect appliances are service chained with Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewalls in each branch office to fortify security for direct internet access.

Since building its SD-WAN on the EdgeConnect platform, Dube says network reliability problems are a thing of the past. “We don’t worry about the WAN anymore. When a circuit outage occurs, EdgeConnect handles the failover seamlessly and the office continues to run without anyone even noticing. It really gives us peace of mind.”

HFF

On top of assured WAN reliability, HFF offices have all the bandwidth they need to access centrally run or cloud-hosted applications with optimal performance. Instead of a mere 40 Mbps, most offices now have 140 Mbps in aggregate bandwidth, plus additional application performance enhancement through Boost and SaaS optimization.

Dube points out that in the last few years, HFF has shifted heavily to SaaS, making SaaS optimization more important than ever. “Accessing SaaS applications is just as important now as getting back to the data center. Since deploying EdgeConnect with Boost and SaaS optimization, we have not heard a single complaint from any office about performance accessing applications. That issue is completely eliminated.”

Streamlined connectivity to public clouds

In addition to SaaS, Dube and his team are stepping up their cloud initiative. For example, thanks to greater bandwidth enabled by the EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform, HFF has completely eliminated tape backups, instead of centrally backing up branch offices and then sending the digital backups to a public cloud.

“There’s no way we would have had enough bandwidth with IP-VPN to centrally backup our remote offices effectively,” says Dube. “But having EdgeConnect and high-bandwidth circuits, it’s now possible, which saves us the cost and time of dealing with tapes and off-site storage.”

Cammack tells of another cloud achievement: spinning up an Azure environment under a very tight timeline to support an important artificial intelligence and machine learning project associated with HFF’s digital transformation. “Normally it would take several days of back and forth with Microsoft to get the necessary VPNs set up. But all we did was put a virtual EdgeConnect appliance in front of our Azure instance, and within one day we were able to connect to it just like a regular remote office. It was beautiful and seamless.”

Another example of how the flexibility of EdgeConnect helped HFF’s IT organization be more responsive to the business was the opening of the London office. The team faced a six-month build-out of an IP-VPN circuit working with the local carrier. This could have delayed the opening, but by deploying the EdgeConnect platform and leveraging an existing internet circuit in the building, the office was able to fully conduct business within days.

Dube concludes, “We now have a template for quickly deploying new sites, with the flexibility to bring in the best carrier for each market. We’re no longer shoehorning in a one-size-fits-all IP-VPN. EdgeConnect enables us to get higher-speed, more affordable connectivity. Our associates can now perform the business functions they need without the WAN being a bottleneck.”

For more information on Silver Peak and our solutions, please visit: silver-peak.com

Customer

HFF and its affiliates operate out of 26 offices and are a leading provider of commercial real estate and capital markets services to the global commercial real estate industry. HFF, together with its affiliates, offers clients a fully integrated capital markets platform, including debt placement, investment advisory, equity placement, funds marketing, M&A and corporate advisory, loan sales, and loan servicing. HFF incorporates capital markets knowledge with local real estate knowledge to successfully complete any type of real estate transaction. Since 1998, the firm has closed more than 27,250 transactions valued at more than $807 billion. Among recent honors, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) named HFF the No. 1 Commercial/Multifamily Mortgage Originator for 2018.

Challenge

HFF needed to address chronic IP-VPN outages causing extended downtime at branch offices, which impaired the ability for associates to access business applications critical to serving customers and managing commercial real estate transactions.

Solution

HFF deployed the Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform at 30 physical sites and two cloud sites, bonding its existing MPLS-based IP-VPN network with commercial internet circuits for assured WAN uptime and increased bandwidth. HFF also enhanced security by service chaining EdgeConnect with Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewalls at branch offices for direct internet breakout, and further enhanced application performance with SaaS optimization and the optional Boost WAN optimization performance pack.

Results

  • Assured WAN availability during circuit outages with zero negative impact on the business
  • Increased available bandwidth from 40 Mbps to 140 Mbps on average
  • Increased application performance by up to 60 percent
  • Improved in-house and SaaS application performance dramatically
  • Reduced the time to connect with a public cloud environment from several days to one day
  • Facilitated digital cloud-based backups, saving the time and cost of tape backups
  • Enhanced employee productivity, efficiency, and quality of experience
  • Enabled IT to be more flexible and responsive to business needs
  • Accelerated bringing new offices online from months to days