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May 1, 2003
By Tara Seals
Master Agency W. Lange & Co.
Solves Network Dilemma for AT Systems
By Tara Seals
Editor’s Note: T@G Case File is a
new periodic feature of the PHONE+ Partner Portal. Channel partners are invited
to call our editors about profiling solution-based sales.
Last November, AT Systems
International Inc., the third largest armored transportation company in the
United States, found itself with 60 days to find and transition to a new network
provider for its entire data infrastructure.
Enter W. Lange & Co. Inc., a
Newhall, Calif.-based master agent that began life 35 years ago as one of the
first telecommunications consultants in the nation. It managed the creation of
AT Systems’ new high-speed data network, which uses multipath and redundant
routing to link about 130 branches, money rooms and bank locations dispersed
around the country with the company’s Pasadena, Calif., headquarters and two
data processing centers.
"We developed into an agent
much later, but we’ve retained the consultative approach," Joe Gomez says,
W. Lange’s CIO, noting that skill helped W. Lange meet the two-month deadline
for solving the network dilemma, an imperative for AT Systems’ business
"When we are dealing with other
peoples’ money, timely data transfers are mission-critical and failures can
result in steep penalties," says Wesley Colvin, CTO for AT Systems, which
runs an armored car service, but also handles cash vault services for banks and
financial institutions, and money management for retail outfits.
"There’s a lot of technology
behind that," says Gomez. "And downtime is simply not an option. For a
cash-management company, downtime costs customers the ability to access their
AT Systems gave W. Lange the task of
evaluating and consulting on the selection of a new carrier. Not surprisingly,
the agent has a long-standing relationship with the cash-management company. W.
Lange started with AT Systems in 1996, when the cash-focused company was
"perhaps a tenth of the size they are now," says Gomez. AT Systems had
16 sites and was growing, both internally and by acquisition. The company needed
a long-distance strategy and a coherent corporate network.
At the time, AT Systems was managing
multiple locations and multiple carriers, and knew it needed a single platform
for its network. After performing a needs assessment, Gomez gave it one,
migrating the disparate parts to one Cable & Wireless USA frame relay
network. The company had limited needs — corporate e-mail, some file transfers
and specialized money-counting software, which takes data from a physical bill
counting machine in the vault of a remote location and sends it to a centralized
As AT Systems grew to its present
130-plus locations, the frame relay network and the applications running on it
grew with the times. So when Cable & Wireless told the company it would be
radically reducing its North American frame presence, AT Systems called in Gomez
to help with the dilemma. "As a consultant we wanted to make the right
decision for the customer, so we really did our due diligence," says Gomez.
New Edge Networks Inc. was Cable
& Wireless’ recommended provider for data transitions, so Gomez requested
details on price and capability. He also asked for information from Qwest
Communications International Inc. "We wanted some alternatives to
consider," says Gomez. "Although we had explored the possibility of
doing something with New Edge when we met them at the [Channel Partners
Conference & Expo] earlier that year, we would never go blindly into [a
Gomez flew to New Edge’s Vancouver,
Wash., headquarters with Colvin, for several days of technical discussions on
the approach and logistics of the potential transition. Customer service was the
real deal-sealer, Gomez says. "The type of environment we found in
Vancouver was very different," says Gomez. "They had a very strong
provisioning team that worked hand-in-hand with the network operations center.
They also assigned one team to work specifically with us, so we had continuity
all the way through. That makes a big difference."
In December 2002, AT Systems and W.
Lange decided to go with New Edge.
Dan Moffat, president and CEO of New
Edge, says, "Our people understand that every circuit is crucial and they
have the experience and sense of urgency to make things happen for customers
large or small."
PROJECT AND PROBLEMS
The first order of business was to
evaluate the frame relay approach. W. Lange built a 10-site test IP VPN to see
if that approach would be more reliable and affordable than frame relay.
"We found added complexity and
security concerns," says Gomez. "The IP VPN may still be a direction
for a voice-over-IP application in their call centers, but for the bulk of their
data needs we decided frame was still the most reliable and secure."
Once a frame relay network was
decided upon, W. Lange and New Edge needed to construct it. Cable & Wireless
had agreed to share its information concerning the permanent virtual circuits (PVCs)
connecting remote locations and other requirements/technical history for AT
Systems, which would act as a template for the new network.
However, when New Edge received the
data, most of it was wrong or missing, not good news with the clock ticking on
the network being shut down. "That was an obstacle we ran into from day
one," says Gomez. "The problem of course was that Cable & Wireless
had had a massive reduction in force, so the people that could have helped us
were no longer there."
Fortunately, W. Lange had kept
detailed records. "That was a big lesson for us. We were able to construct
a database for New Edge to use in the network construction [because] we had
maintained better records than the carrier."
By staying with frame, AT Systems
was able to keep its existing router infrastructure as well. But this brought an
additional challenge: The legacy carrier hardware, CSUs/DSUs left behind by
Cable & Wireless, needed to be reconfigured and added to New Edge’s network.
W. Lange also wanted to upgrade 60 percent of the frame relay network ports to a
higher bandwidth. "It certainly wasn’t plug and play," says Gomez,
noting the management of the project was a significant challenge.
The agent solved the problem by
partnering. It called in systems integrator Expanets of North America LLC to
work on the routers, and New Edge’s team worked closely with Gomez and his
project managers, Manny Ortiz and Marti Ogborn, to get the work done on the
A final, and ongoing, obstacle lay
in the fact that, unlike Cable & Wireless, New Edge uses frame relay
network-to-network interfaces (NNI) to provide national service. That means New
Edge uses other carriers, usually RBOCs, to connect sites outside the reach of
its own facilities. "That was a huge learning curve," explains Gomez.
"It’s a new environment for us and the customer, carrier and agent all had
to ramp up."
The biggest problem with NNI in the
AT Systems case was local management interface (LMI) translations, a method of
exchanging status information between routers on a frame network. "We had
to take LMI from translated to transparent," says Gomez. "They just
weren’t working," which meant that nothing was talking to each other.
It was a particular problem on the
reconfigured legacy routers. W. Lange had the customer ship a spare CSU/DSU so
the team could test the configuration and determine the settings that would work
in an NNI environment. After the first 20, the process became smooth and
The ability to make the parts work
together — technologies, carriers, other vendors — made the two-month timeline
possible. AT Systems’ IT staff was very small, so the bulk of the responsibility
fell to W. Lange.
"Most of my staff are former
product support personnel and engineers," says Gomez. Even so, to ease the
workload W. Lange assigned additional personnel to the project, and hired a
former Cable & Wireless project manager on an hourly basis.
"We provide consultative
services as part of the commission we get from the carriers," explains
Gomez. "But we’ll charge an hourly rate for project management services
above and beyond the norm."
Particularly considering that W.
Lange took on a tandem project to the network migration. "There was an
internal initiative to develop a primary and secondary data center
approach," says Gomez. As it was, AT Systems had five or six regional data
centers, and every branch and remote office had connections back to them.
Instead, the company decided to house a data center in a carrier colocation
space, with a backup in an AT Systems facility. Information would be replicated
at both. Meanwhile the connectivity at the remote sites would be reduced to two
PVCs each — one to each data center. "This would guarantee near 100
percent uptime for the remote sites," says Gomez. "And we decided to
do this in parallel with migrating the network."
After a month and a half of
evaluation, AT Systems signed with SBC Communications Inc. for its Dallas data
center, in December 2002.
With Expanets, New Edge, Cable &
Wireless, various LECs (for remote offices’ local loops) and SBC all involved in
AT Systems’ transition, W. Lange found themselves knee-deep in tricky project
management. "We worked round-the-clock through the holidays and on
weekends," says Gomez. "We had members assigned to the vendor
management team and to the carrier management team. We provided all the
coordination and follow-up."
Part of the coordination involved
getting people into the facilities themselves. "Each location is a secure
facility that required advance notice to gain entry," says Gomez. "In
the past they’ve been robbed by armed gunmen posing as telephone repairmen or
electricians." Therefore, the agent took on coordination of personnel and
the end user for everyone involved.
The project began Dec. 18, 2002, and
by Feb. 3, it was completed — near-record time in the telecom world. "The
important thing here is the importance of the role of the agent," says New
Edge spokesman Sal Cinqugrani. "I really can’t overestimate it."
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