London - SAS Global Communications, an international provider of managed and professional network services, has completed a project to upgrade the communications infrastructure of ThyssenKrupp Materials (TKM) UK, a major provider of raw materials for metal product manufacturing. SAS installed a new robust and scalable wide area network (WAN) which connects eight of the company’s UK sites, and is quality of service-enabled (QoS), thereby guaranteeing traffic priority for TKM’s business critical applications across the network.
TKM is a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp, one of the world's largest technology groups, with more than 190,000 employees worldwide and sales of Euro 51 billion in 2006/2007. In the UK, TKM employs approximately 500 staff, all working in the company's main areas of steel, capital goods and services. In addition to its own offices and stockholding warehouses in the UK, the company also owns ASA, Metalfast and Vetchberry Steels.
Each branch holds a significant amount of stock to meet the immediate needs of local customers, backed up by a central warehouse in the West Midlands. To ensure that customer needs are always met on time, it is essential that branches have reliable and immediate access to the order processing and stock control applications which are located in, and managed by, the company’s Birmingham head office. However, because the previous WAN, BT NetEquip, was not able to support QoS, there was no way of prioritising business-critical traffic, and this often resulted in application failure and loss of connectivity with the central server. Furthermore, ThyssenKrupp’s previous WAN offered no resilience in the event of network outage, so the organisation wanted to upgrade to a solution that could guarantee availability 24/7.
ThyssenKrupp chose SAS to design and install the new infrastructure because it understood the company’s business requirements, and was able to offer independent advice on the best products and solutions available within budget. During the design stage, it became apparent that it would be prohibitively expensive to build a resilient WAN in the traditional way using two separate exchanges, one for the primary circuit and another for the backup link. This was because a large bridge obstructed the route to the secondary exchange, and routing the circuit around this obstacle would have cost the company a further £50,000. To overcome this problem, SAS created two different networks to support the eight site installation – one based on a private circuit and the other using the Internet.
SAS installed BT’s MPLS network IP Clear at eight UK sites, whilst secondary circuits are provided using BT Net and BT business broadband connections. The WAN is terminated with Cisco routers configured for assured forwarding quality of service; this guarantees QoS for the stock control and order processing applications, prioritising these requests over other network applications. It also gives TKM the flexibility to prioritise other applications when the need arises. The WAN is also likely to be extended to include the MetalFast and Vetchberry Steels sites in the near future.
“The new network has completely resolved our previous performance and downtime issues, and we can now rest safe in the knowledge that, even if our primary connections fails, business continuity won’t be affected,” said Gary Cleasby, IT infrastructure manager at ThyssenKrupp Materials UK. “What’s more, as a company we grow by acquisition, and this often involves quickly bringing new offices onto the central communications infrastructure, and it is imperative that this is done with as little impact as possible on the day-to-day running of the business. Whereas this used to be a logistical and time-consuming nightmare, now we can now make these changes quickly and economically, maximising productivity and business results across all our UK operations.”
During the initial planning stages, TKM had also considered implementing IP telephony (IPT) and running voice over its UK network to reduce call costs. However, upon consultation with SAS, and after careful consideration, it became clear that the financial savings resulting from such an installation would not have been significant, and since the company had no further business requirements for unified communications (UC), the investment would not have been worthwhile.
“ThyssenKrupp Materials made sound decisions when it came to its new infrastructure, and avoided unnecessary investment. The company now has a scalable solution that will support both current and future applications as well as future acquisitions,” said Charles Davis, CEO of SAS Global Communications. “Whilst many businesses fall into the trap of believing everything they hear about IPT and unified communications, launching headlong into a project without first assessing the business need, TKM avoided unnecessary expenditure by taking time to plan from the outset. In cases like this one, where call cost reductions are the main driver, businesses won’t get the most out of an IPT installation; it only really comes into its own when used with productivity enhancing applications such as unified communications.”
SAS will continue to provide TKM with ongoing management of the WAN.
For businesses that need advice on their communications infrastructures, SAS has created an online workshop designed to address the practical requirements of installing converged networks. SAS is also running a series of live IPT and unified communications webcasts. These events are available free-of-charge to registered users at www.sas.co.uk. The next webcast is entitled, ‘How to implement IPT on a global network’ and will take place on Tuesday 11 March 2008 at 11.00 am.