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Converged voice and data network puts shirts on cowboys' backs

Extreme Networks provided the gear for a clothier's upgrade to a faster infrastructure for data applications and a reliable infrastructure for voice and video.

Rocky Mountain Clothing Company went from rags to riches when it came to its converged voice and data network overhaul.

The nearly 100-year-old clothing company began with one lone traveling salesman, Phillip Miller, who peddled cowboy hats ranch to ranch across Colorado. Demand for hats bred requests for other types of clothing, such as jeans and shirts. Miller's ambition grew along with product demand, and he expanded his business to become a catalog company.

Today, Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clothing Company is the world's second-largest maker of Western wear and sells four distinct brands to 3,000 retailers nationwide. It also takes orders from online shoppers and runs its business on a state-of-the-art converged voice and data network.

With $60 million in revenue and only 143 employees, Rocky Mountain Clothing isn't a large company, but it is progressive.

The company's voice and wireless network is powered by an Extreme Networks BlackDiamond 8800 modular Ethernet backbone switch and a handful of Summit 300 series network edge switches. The switch combo provides a responsive infrastructure for voice and video, and a much faster infrastructure for data applications, according to John Seville, the company's chief information officer (CIO).

When Seville entered the scene as a consultant a few years ago, his job was to replace a rickety network with a solid infrastructure.

"The infrastructure had grown up wild, with no common architecture," Seville said. "Switches would commonly go offline and then needed to be rebooted. There was no architectural design and little investment in the infrastructure as far as future growth."

The upgrade turning point arrived when Rocky Mountain Clothing got hit with a failing enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation.

"We have moved to an internally maintained solution, we have 3,000 customers now, and we're on our fourth brand … reliability and stability are real critical," Seville said.

To that end, the company now has Gigabit connectivity between its servers, and it is realizing benefits such as dramatically increased database server performance. The company claims that the time it takes to pull information from the database server has been reduced from more than 13 hours to only 40 minutes.

The Extreme-based network is also highly redundant and provides increased availability as well as Quality of Service (QoS) features enabling low latency applications, Seville said.

Although Rocky Mountain has gone with Extreme for its converged network, it originally considered Cisco and has a few Cisco routers still going strong. Customer service is key to a homegrown company like Rocky Mountain, however, and the response from local Extreme staff clinched the deal, according to Seville.

As for the technology argument behind Rocky Mountain's vendor choice, Extreme's BlackDiamond 8800 provides a universal port for IP telephony applications with optional integrated support for Power over Ethernet (PoE) at Gigabit (10/100/1000) data rates. The switch has a highly redundant chassis design and a system architecture that provides voice-class availability from any location on the network.

Meanwhile, the network edge Summit 300 switch provides up to 48 versatile 10/100 (Fast Ethernet) ports with PoE. Every port provides high-performance Fast Ethernet data to the desktop, as well as PoE and support for wireless LAN connectivity. The switch can power devices such as VoIP phones, surveillance cameras, and badge readers. Wireless APs can also be securely deployed and managed throughout a facility to power all wireless data or voice applications.

Rocky Mountain outfitted its network for voice for economic reasons and says it has cut its cost in half on the carrier side. But the company additionally wanted to run voice applications that would enhance the communications process among its employees. The company eventually deployed Microsoft's Live Communication Server, Instant Messenger (IM), email, and voicemail to the inbox.

"We decided to implement the data side first and make sure we're stable and can manage it, then we started on VoIP," Seville said. "But we wanted more than just voice. We wanted unified messaging."

Rocky Mountain started as a one-man show and operates out of a single facility that serves as its headquarters and houses the manufacturing process. The Western-wear clothier also endorses sporting events ranging from bull riders to rodeo teams to barrel racers. It's a simple life when compared to Wall Street brokerages or the nation's largest insurance company, but Rocky Mountain is making big strides when it comes to progressive networks.

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