Co-operative Society turns to SAS Global Communications to reduce costs and improve communications

Posted on Tuesday January 23, 2007

London - SAS Global Communications, an international provider of managed and professional network services, today announced that it has designed and implemented a new broadband wide area network to link the 120 sites of the Ipswich and Norwich Co-operative Society. The installation involved upgrading the retailer’s dial-up connections, where the costs were high and variable, to a cheaper fixed-rate broadband network, resulting in a significant reduction in operational costs and improved efficiency in communications.

The Ipswich and Norwich Co-op is part of the East of England Co-operative Society, the fifth largest Co-operative Society in the UK and the largest independent retailer in the region. Prior to the installation, all of the Co-op’s stores were connected to a central server using dial-up connections and were managed by a team of five IT staff. The costs were high and variable, making budget and cash flow management difficult.

Ipswich and Norwich Co-op therefore needed to upgrade its network. However, with limited data communications knowledge and even greater limitations on technical resource, the Co-op also needed a partner that could advise it on how best to choose, implement and support a new communications network which would help to maximise efficiency and productivity. With its technical expertise, knowledge, and ability to deliver high quality ongoing managed communications and network support, SAS was an ideal fit.

SAS designed and implemented a WAN using BT’s IP Stream, a private ADSL based network. The WAN comprises a central ‘fat pipe’ circuit which is able to handle the peaks in network traffic generated when the Co-op’s stores send daily sales information to the central office. For remote sites where bandwidth requirements are less, SAS has implemented lower capacity, lower cost circuits.

In the event of failure, the whole network is backed up with ISDN connections for disaster recovery. Each site can also function in stand-alone mode if for any reason the central site is down. The Co-op has also signed a support contract with SAS for managed services, providing round the clock monitoring and maintenance, including load balancing of contention ratios, based on each store’s network demands and utilisation levels.

“As a Co-op we are completely owned by our members and operate on tight margins,” said John Dixey, head of IT strategy at Ipswich and Norwich Co-operative Society. “We couldn’t afford to throw money away on expensive dial-up connections and needed to move over to broadband, but our own expertise is more applications than communications focused so we could have made a costly mistake. SAS plugged our knowledge gap and has proved an invaluable partner.”

To reduce risk and enable local implementation by the Co-op’s IT department, the broadband upgrade was rolled out across five sites at a time. To help keep costs low all Cisco routers were preconfigured and shipped to the sites in advance; SAS then remotely guided in-house staff through the installation and final configuration. In addition to cutting costs and improving efficiency, the new private network is also robust enough to handle credit card transactions securely, without the risks and extra management burdens associated with sending sensitive data over public networks. SAS is also responsible for managing the Society’s authentication server to further ensure the highest level of security.

“Many businesses fall into the trap of underestimating the level of ongoing complexity involved in implementing and managing a project like this,” said Charles Davis, CEO of SAS Global Communications. “Doing so can actually result in escalating costs rather than the hoped for reductions. Businesses must be aware of what’s actually involved and the maintenance requirements if they are to realise the full benefits of the system.”

With the WAN infrastructure now in place, the Co-op has plans to upgrade to IP telephony. SAS is also currently implementing a disaster recovery solution, with a mirrored data centre at a disaster recovery site in Ipswich.