Magazine Article | September 17, 2008

Experience The Benefits Of A Managed Network

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By migrating its customers to a managed broadband network, Unified Grocers was able to reduce networking expenses by more than 20%.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2008

If you're like many of the retailer chains out there, the network that connects your storefronts is something that has you scratching your head, cursing, or both. Imagine the task Unified Grocers faced when it upgraded the networks that handled millions of electronic payment transactions for 200 retailers. The $4 billion wholesale grocery cooperative that provides grocery products and services to independent retailers, recently migrated all of its network services customers from a frame relay network to a managed broadband network. In addition to lower costs and increased bandwidth, there were a number of additional benefits Unified achieved.

What Resources Does Your Legacy Network Drain?
About two years ago, Dan Swofford, retail technology products manager for Unified, was approached by the company's CIO along with the GM of Retail Technology. The frame relay network (a service offered by Unified's Retail Services group) that Unified's customers used to handle payment processing traffic was consuming the manpower of the wholesaler's internal corporate IT resources. The CIO challenged the Retail Technology group to investigate the possibility of transferring the burden of support from Unified's IT group to a third party. In addition to being a burden on Unified's internal IT staff, the frame relay network also had other faults. "Although extremely reliable, our old network was slow with transfer speeds maxing out at 56k," says Swofford.

Swofford and a group of five other employees embarked on a research and selection process lasting six months. The group scored the capabilities of 10 vendors and then interviewed those which made the wholesaler's short list. In the end, Unified chose MegaPath as its provider of managed IP (Internet Protocol) communications services.

Enjoy The Benefits Of Managed IP Communications
Swofford explains that MegaPath was chosen for a few reasons. First, the vendor's network is MPLS (multiprotocol label switching)-enabled and all optical. MPLS establishes the necessary requirements to handle the convergence of data, voice, and video. While Unified's customers were using the frame relay network almost exclusively for payment processing, having a new broadband network would create opportunities for additional Web-based services (e.g. sales analysis, pharmacy applications, shrink management) to be used. Second, MegaPath has a Web portal that Unified can use to order and monitor services with little administrative overhead. Finally, MegaPath makes multiple networking technologies available with its hybrid network. For instance, a retailer located on the outskirts of a city where DSL or cable connectivity isn't available can use MegaPath's satellite service. "The broadband services offered by MegaPath are at least 20 times faster than the old frame relay network," adds Swofford.

In addition to all these benefits, the MegaPath network is audited and certified for PCI (payment card industry) compliance, which removed this burden from Unified with regard to their old network. What's more, since switching to MegaPath, Unified has been able to take those corporate IT employees who used to spend time managing the frame relay and reassign them to corporate IT projects.

The entire migration for 200 stores, which involved planning sessions with MegaPath, the ordering and rollout of circuits, and testing of Unified's services, lasted one year. Today, Unified is able to apply all the lessons learned along the way to a new group of nearly 200 network services customers. The wholesaler recently went through an acquisition of Associated Grocers (AG) in Seattle. With the acquisition, Unified not only inherited customers, but another frame relay network with many of the same problems experienced on Unified's old network. Unified is moving quickly to migrate customers in this region to MegaPath by early 2009. Swofford concludes by saying that teaming up with MegaPath will be critical to the overall success of the project.

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