Managing Your New Telecom Network

Retailers are looking for an affordable and secure network, but telecom networks—and the business requirements that drive them—are more complex than ever. At the same time, retailers are deploying more applications and need to prioritize data traffic. Sophisticated new WANs are optimized for cost-effectiveness and provide outstanding benefits that go far beyond simple connectivity, according to the panel discussion, “Managing Your New Telecom Network.”

The panel, which featured Ken Brame, CIO of AutoZone; Greg Buzek, founder and president of IHL Consulting Group; and Paul Salzinger, director of business development of New Edge Networks, discussed retail’s new network needs, choosing the right network, planning around new and upcoming applications, and overall, getting the most benefit for your network investment.

“The notion of running a business on a dial-up network connection is ancient,” Salzinger said. “Retailers can do so much more with broadband and we are seeing a shift in the network trends from dial and frame [low speed/dial up] to Net VPN and MPLS, a technology that helps retailers segment the type of traffic to ensure the highest performance.”

Ken Brame, CIO of AutoZone, said the Memphis, Tenn.-based auto-parts chain started to recognize a need for a new network in 2005.

“We started to look around and weigh our options,” Brame said. “RadioShack was one of the first retailers to roll out its stores in DSL environment, and we saw that it was really working for them. We decided to head down that path and tested it in four or five different stores.”

Today, all of AutoZone’s 4,000+ stores are on broadband.

About 50% of all retailers are currently running networks in real time. But previously, retailers tried to build access from any connection (from cable to DSL) and didn’t have control over support from multiple vendors. Now, more retailers are switching to a network-based application that better manages and supports latency-sensitive applications through class of service (COS).

It’s critical to have an updated network, as IP devices now penetrate all aspects of retail operations, from self-service kiosks to RFID and music services. Business intelligence also drives competitive advantage, as retailers look toward real-time inventory management, strong workforce management, store traffic monitoring and supply chain management. But one of the key drivers early on involves faster transactions, Salzinger said. Customers don’t want to wait for a dial-up modem with six people in line. It’s important to select a network method to simplify and speed up this process.

Salzinger suggested that retailers pursue a network system with less equipment and less management, all from a single source. He also asked retailers to consider their network design, such as either a hub and spoke (controlled Internet access) compared to a fully meshed system (more real-time access).

It’s critical for retailers to plan ahead and consider what they are using now vs. what may come in the next year, according to Salzinger. Voice over IP (VoIP) and video surveillance, for example, are also a part of it.

Salzinger’s checklist of what retailers should look for when choosing and managing a network is available at www.csatopss.com. Click on About TOPSS, then click Event Archive.