When manufacturer MICO Inc. embarked on projects to implement version control of engineering and design files and to consolidate data for a more agile disaster recovery posture, it turned to wide area network (WAN) optimization technology to ease the burden that centralized data stores put on the WAN.
MICO, a North Mankato, Minn.-based manufacturer of hydraulic brakes for heavy off-road equipment companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere, was having very few problems with its WAN, according to John Lindblom, network administrator. The headquarters was connected to one branch location by a point-to-point T1 line and to the other branch by a site-to-site VPN.
"Initially, without any tools in place to optimize the WAN connections, we really didn't have a lot of problems," Lindblom said.
The challenge arose when MICO decided to consolidate its data storage at its headquarters. The company had traditionally maintained local file servers at each corporate location and delivered most corporate applications, including ERP, from a central data center at the headquarters.
MICO decided to centralize its data for several reasons, Lindblom said. The first was version control. With design engineers distributed throughout the company, the sprawl of file servers could lead to multiple versions of designs for precision equipment. These computer-aided design (CAD) files could be better controlled if all users accessed them from a centralized location. As part of a broader project, MICO is also implementing a Web-based product data management (PDM) application to centrally manage all of the company's design data.
"Each facility can possibly be manufacturing the same products, so we've got a lot of data moving around," Lindblom said. "And with that you've got the opportunity for issues with [version] control. The idea is, if you've got one document that everyone is sharing from one location, then you've got much better revision control."
Centralizing data also offered other benefits. MICO has limited IT resources outside its central headquarters. Lindblom said that pulling the data out of the branch locations and managing it from headquarters put the data back where it belongs -- in the hands of IT staff. Also, the centralization simplified the company's disaster recovery planning by providing one single point from which data should be backed up.
The data consolidation presented Lindblom with a major challenge: "transferring large files back and forth over that line and not having it interfere with line-of-business applications like ERP software," he said.
Lindblom installed Steelhead WAN optimization appliances from Riverbed in each of his corporate locations. He chose Riverbed in part for the work it has done with optimizing the protocols of CAD applications and improving the importance of those file types.
"I was also very interested in the QoS capabilities of the product," he said. "It allowed me to control the line and determine what would have priority over the bandwidth. If someone is pulling a large CAD file over the line, I can make sure they're not slowing down 15 or 20 other people with the line-of-business ERP system that has a priority. The drawing will just take longer."
The WAN optimization appliances also reduced latency in networked applications by making them less chatty and reducing the number of roundtrips made during transactions on applications.
"One of the biggest pieces there [is that] the Steelheads are helping with latency," Lindblom said. "Latency on WAN links is really where your big problems are with roundtrip time. That alone can kill certain protocols. The Steelhead has actually reduced latency by a third of what we were experiencing before, which minimizes a lot of chatter for the Microsoft CIFS protocol trying to handle the file transfers."
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