Transport Firm Centralizes with Cisco

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As one of the world’s largest transportation companies, Panalpina has operations in 90 countries and more than 14,000 employees. In the company’s North American operations, IT decentralization was creating problems of cost and control.

After careful planning and evaluation, Panalpina North America (N.A.) made the move to centralize IT operations, including storage, using Cisco Systems Wide Area Application Services (WAAS). The changed has helped the company grow and improve system performance while reducing costs.

A leading provider of forwarding and logistics services, specializing in intercontinental air freight and ocean freight shipments and related supply chain management, Panalpina’s N.A. operations include 60 branch offices and about 2,200 employees.

Over the last couple of years, Panalpina N.A. has installed a WAN optimization solution coupled with a storage area network (SAN), which has allowed the company to consolidate its seven North America data centers into just one, located in New Jersey.

According to Armin Heinlein, senior vice president and head of Panalpina’s North American IT competence center, located in New Jersey, consolidation using Cisco’s WAAS has resulted in a number of benefits. “We have better cost and system control and improved manageability,” he said.

The cost savings alone are impressive. Consolidation of Panalpina’s seven North American-based IT shops to one site has resulted in ROI cost savings of well over a million dollars per year, said Heinlein.

Cisco’s WAAS 4.0, according to the vendor, is an application acceleration and WAN optimization solution for the branch office designed to improve the performance of TCP-based applications operating in a WAN environment.

WAAS incorporates best-of-breed application acceleration and WAN optimization techniques, including compression, redundancy elimination, transport optimizations, protocol optimizations and content distribution.

In a typical WAAS deployment, WAAS software runs on Cisco Wide Area Application Engine (WAE) appliances deployed in the data center and at remote office locations as nodes attached to the LAN. Cisco WAAS employs the Web Cache Communication Protocol (WCCP) v2 or Policy-Based Routing (PBR) to intercept traffic and transparently forward it to the Cicso WAE on both sides of the network, according to Cisco.

Growing Pains

Just a few years ago, Panalpina N.A. had seven data centers, located in New Jersey, Toronto, Miami, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Each data center had its own IT staff to oversee systems running the complete gamut of business applications.

The N.A. operations were in need of an equipment upgrade, since many servers had reached end of life, and the company also needed to centralize storage and revisit environmentals such as electricity, air conditioning and power. Continual bandwidth and network upgrades had become costly and the growing company needed to find a better way.

“We knew that centralizing servers would also allow us to consolidate our hardware,” said Heinlein.

At the time, the company had mostly server-attached storage (DAS) on its mix of 40 IBM AIX machines and 150 Windows boxes. Although there was a SAN in the New Jersey data center, access was slow for field people using laptops or desktops, according to Heinlein.

In fact, back in 2004 when he was located in Miami, Heinlein personally experienced the painfully slow network speeds. “When I tried to open an Excel spreadsheet from a server located in New Jersey, I realized how slow remote access was to the server,” he said.

At the time, the company looked into Cisco’s Wide Area File Services (WAFS) software. WAFS, the predecessor to WAAS, accelerates file-based application and data for branch office server consolidation. The newer WAAS contains a richer superset of the functionality found in WAFS, said Cisco.

While interested in the solution, Panalpina N.A. held off on a technology purchase due to budget constraints at the time.

The company continued to investigate other vendor solutions for WAN optimization. However, when the time came to act, Panalpina N.A. selected Cisco’s WAAS. “We looked at products from Riverbed Technology, but Cisco had the global support that we need and we liked the vendor’s product line and product strategy,” said Heinlein.

“With WAAS, it took three seconds to access a standard 2 MB Excel file between Toronto and New Jersey. Previously, it would take 30 seconds.”

— Armin Heinlein

Heinlein and his IT team ran a pilot project before buying that connected the New Jersey data center to the company’s Toronto data center, a key site that serves the company’s mission critical shipping needs across Canada. According to the senior vice president, remote users weren’t even aware that they were accessing applications from servers based in New Jersey.

“With WAAS, it took three seconds to access a standard 2 MB Excel file between Toronto and New Jersey. Previously, it would take 30 seconds,” he said.

More to Come

Panalpina N.A. completed consolidation in 2006. The company now has 30 IBM AIX and maintains 150 Blade Servers for Windows, but is growing with the same or fewer resources. Panalpina has also virtualized its environment, has more computing horsepower, and load balancing is simplified in the centralized environment, according to Heinlein.

“We addressed power issues, and our IT resources in the branches can now provide user support rather than deal with hardware,” he said.

WAAS has also enabled the company to centralize storage, adding scalability and facilitating easier management, with a Cisco SAN that includes two Cisco MDS 9509 Multilayer Directors, 20 terabytes of enterprise storage on an IBM ES F40, and EMC CX700s and CX500s connected to Citrix Servers, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL, and Microsoft Cluster Servers for file servers and AIX servers for in-house applications.

Panalpina is now looking into expanding WAAS at its Latin America locations.

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Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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