Irish manufacturer sees 35-node Europe-wide WAN performance boosted in server consolidation project
Richard Gray, IT manager for Kingspan Environmental, a division of Irish building products manufacturer Kingspan, says new Wide Area File Services allow users to work on files held centrally on servers at the data centre, neatly removing the need to email them and add to network congestion.
Kingspan Environmental , a division of Irish building products manufacturer Kingspan
The Banbridge, Northern Ireland-based manufacturer of plastic oil tanks, copper cylinders, and septic tanks has grown rapidly in recent years, explains IT Manager Richard Gray. Today, a combination of organic growth and acquisitions resulted in a WAN embracing no fewer than 35 locations across Europe—including 21 manufacturing plants spread across the U.K., Eire, Poland, and Denmark. WAN acceleration tools from Expand Networks had been deployed to deliver acceptable response times to the nine instances of Citrix thin client-enhanced Sage Line 500 ERP applications operating over the network, adds Gray, and by earlier this year the situation was becoming critical.
“Increasingly, the distributed environment in which we were operating just made no sense,” he says. “The IT resource to manage it was becoming a constraint: people were contemplating getting on a plane to fix a Microsoft Exchange server in a remote location—simply because the resource to fix it locally wasn’t there.”
But network capacity was once again becoming an issue, with users from the financial staff e-mailing large spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations that adversely affected performance of the business-critical Citrix-based applications.
“We were using the network for business-critical commercial applications where rapid response times were vital—and then degrading it by sending 10mb spreadsheets over it,” explains Gray. “Things were starting to break down.”
A costly WAN upgrade would improve network performance, but still leave servers strung out over Europe on a distributed and hard-to-support network. Server consolidation was clearly the way to go, but would add still further to data traffic competing for network bandwidth.
Expand Networks had meanwhile been working elsewhere within the Kingspan group, and so were familiar with the situation at Kingspan Environmental, explains James Sherlow, Expand’s European VP of technical services. Together, Expand and Gray identified a way out of the impasse: consolidating servers in three data centers (Banbridge; Aylesbury, U.K.; and a continental European location), and deploying Expand technology to deliver data compression and Wide Area File Services (WAFS) to address the bandwidth and response time issues.
Better still, adds Sherlow, the solution would give priority to the business-critical Citrix-based data traffic, yet still allow users to continue to collaborate on large spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
“In short," says Sherlow, "Kingspan network users would be able to access their familiar applications remotely, but with the same—or at least consistent and predictable—network response times as before. What was on offer was a consistent LAN-like performance over a Europe-wide WAN, especially with respect to business-critical applications.”
So it has proved, says Gray. User productivity for those employees engaged on enterprise suite applications has been unchanged, and the experience of users previously frustrated by the erratic performance with respect to spreadsheets and other large files has been transformed. The WAFS technology allows people to work on files held centrally on servers at the data centre, he explains, neatly removing the need to e-mail them and add to network congestion. “From the user’s perspective, it’s like accessing their files on a local file server—but it’s actually a remote data centre,” he stresses.
In short, concludes Gray, “Expand has kept our WAN costs down, because we have been able to hold off on what we thought were inevitable and costly WAN upgrades. Meanwhile, the WAFS feature allows people to collaborate with shared data as though they were on the same LAN—with the result that the user experience is the same whether they are working in our head office, or in a remote office hundreds of miles away.”
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.