Managing device changes across a large, distributed network can be a time-consuming and error-prone process. One international retail chain was suffering from those pains but recently found a way to clip its network management problems.
Staples Inc., the Framingham, Mass.-based office supply retailer, has more than 1,500 stores in North America and Europe. Changing device configurations across its large network was a job that took about six man-days worth of labor, said Staples director of network operations, Sally Jo Bernard.
For example, one device required a user to input 11 passwords in order to make a change, Bernard said. After spending hours dealing with similar boring and repetitive processes, admins are often prone to make more errors. It soon became clear that Staples needed some way to make the device management process easier.
She found a product from Gold Wire Technology Inc., called Formulator. The network appliance enables an organization to make configuration changes across a distributed network from a single location. It can also back up those changes and restore them in an emergency.
Formulator is a server-based software package that is sold on a Sun Solaris chassis, said Jonathan Wolf, Gold Wire's founder and executive vice president of product operations. The product can also be used to provide users with individual sign-on identities to help better manage access to network devices.
After a 60-day pilot period, Staples deployed Formulator across its network. Now, Bernard said, changes that once took six days to complete can be done in two hours.
"Every time that you can replace a boring manual process with an automated process, it's a much better deal," Bernard said.
Staples is currently using Formulator only to manage routers and some larger switches, but it will likely expand to LAN switches as well. And now that the product can manage Unix-based devices, it will likely be used with those, too, Bernard said.
The product has garnered interest from companies with large, real-time networks, such as in the retail and financial services industries, as well as government organizations, Wolf said.
The network configuration management market is one that has drawn a number of small players like Gold Wire and is seeing new innovations from established companies, said Stephen Elliott, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm, International Data Corp.
Companies such as Voyence Inc., Rendition Networks Inc. and AlterPoint Inc., as well as established networking vendors Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd., all have made efforts to help businesses manage configuration.
But making these products work to a business' advantage is not always simple, Elliott said. While the technology may provide a more efficient way to manage network processes, people may get in the way.
"The biggest challenge is changing how the IT departments work. Cultural change can be hard," Elliott said.
Pricing for Gold Wire's Formulator appliance starts at $50,000.