Magazine Article | June 18, 2007

Find Your WAN's Accelerator

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

 Application proliferation can degrade WAN performance. Here’s how to get it back.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, July 2007

The broadband WAN revolution has enabled application centralization to such a degree that heavy data transmission loads are now stressing many relatively new WANs. But more bandwidth comes at a price. That's why many retailers are focusing on smarter bandwidth usage before pulling the trigger on buying more of it. In this month's forum, cell phone and service retailer Cellular South's Data Network Supervisor Davey Ware shares some intelligence on how network optimization helps retailers' application performance. His commentary is joined by that of Keith Vozel, director of marketing at network solutions provider Stampede Technologies, and Rob Courtney, VP of sales there.

What specific retail applications are improved by better enterprise network performance at Cellular South?
We use the network acceleration solution to improve performance on the systems that are used heavily by our retail sales associates. These systems include our POS, knowledge base, e-mail, and reporting applications. 

Vozel: Specific applications that are accelerated by Stampede's Application Acceleration Series solution include several WebSphere-based applications, Outlook Web Access, PeopleSoft Time & Attendance, and customer care and billing. As a result of installing the solution, Cellular South experienced bandwidth savings of approximately 77%, while routinely cutting application response times in half. 

What goes into the implementation/execution of a network acceleration solution like this?
Ware: We used a phased-in approach. We wanted to make sure that the solution was going to work correctly in our environment before deploying it company-wide. First, we installed and configured the WebRider appliance. Then, we did some initial testing and tweaking to the system. We used one of our retail locations as a test site and implemented the solution. After about a week of testing, we determined that the appliance was definitely going to improve network performance at our retail locations. Next, we started rolling out the client to our retail stores in stages by areas until it was fully deployed company-wide. This network acceleration solution was very easy to set up and deploy.

Vozel: A typical installation starts with a POC (proof of concept). The POC is a process that identifies the problem applications and bandwidth constraints and allows the customer to then test the solution in both a lab and production environment at no cost to the customer. The POC demonstrates the value that can be realized, and when complete, the customer already has a working solution installed and partially deployed. Once the final commitment to Stampede is made, only the remaining users/locations that were not part of the test are then activated.

What makes network acceleration a more attractive option than a network upgrade?
Ware: Cost is probably the biggest factor. Installing the network acceleration solution allowed us to continue using our existing network circuits at our retail stores and kiosk locations. This was a very cost-effective solution for us. 

Vozel: Network acceleration can be a more attractive option than a complete network upgrade for several reasons. The primary reason is from a cost of ownership perspective. An acceleration solution can delay an upgrade anywhere from 3 to 5 years and offers a payback in as little as 8 to 10 months.

Are there any store- or sales-level benefits of network acceleration?
Ware: Our employees have definitely been pleased with the improvement in network performance. It has allowed them to service our customers more quickly and efficiently. 

Courtney: It's all about improving response times for applications used in the store. Since store personnel are essentially in the customer service business, they either keep the customer waiting a lot less for service, or more customers can be serviced during the same time interval. The big payback in the store is productivity opportunities for store personnel. 

Is there any standard, quantifiable payback or ROI in a solution like this, or does it vary by end user?
Ware: There are many variables in calculating ROI with this type of solution, so it's going to vary by end user. The number of locations using the solution, how dispersed the locations are geographically, and the associated costs of the existing network all factor in to the equation.

Courtney: It does vary by end user, but the two areas that we see consistently in each account are hard bandwidth savings (usually hard dollars of network cost avoidance, which is pretty easy to quantify) and productivity savings (these are soft savings and thus are more difficult to quantify). Some accounts are pushing for hard dollars while others are looking for response time and productivity savings. In addition, the total cost of ownership can be from one-quarter to one-tenth the cost of alternatives like network replacement.