Windows servers and the introduction of a private IP backbone have allowed welding giant Thermadyne Holdings Corp. to squeeze more efficiency out of its global network.

The company used data replication techniques to transfer large engineering files more efficiently, improving performance while avoiding costly last-mile network upgrades.

Thermadyne had grown aggressively through acquisition, explained systems administrator supervisor Kristian Katail. The acquisitions gave the welding and cutting products manufacturer a presence in 28 countries, but they also created around 20 different IT departments. Linked together using relatively low-bandwidth point-to-point frame relay connections via different service providers, subsidiaries found it difficult to exchange data between sites. The problem was exacerbated by the use of a central hub on the frame relay network, which was a potential data bottleneck.

The lack of standardization had direct implications for the business, said Kataila. “When you’re a publicly traded company, people start enquiring about efficiency,” he said. The disparate nature of the network also created performance issues, particularly in locations such as China, where lots of civil development means that Thermadyne needs to send large CAD drawings of 300MB or more across to local engineers. 

The company considered a new network connection to China, but government regulations there would have delayed installation by at least six months. Other locations, such as its office in Rio, also required large amounts of engineering data sent over relatively low-bandwidth links, which risked hindering the performance of applications such as e-mail.

The alternative to upgrading network links was to make better use of the existing ones. “So we considered replication to better use the lines that we already had,” said Kataila. “The return on investment for replication technologies is very fast.”

There were two major components to the replication project: standardization of the network, and a move to Windows Server 2003 R2, which contains data replication facilities as part of its distributed file system. The company used MCI Verizon’s private IP network, which gave it a more efficient switched network backbone across 28 countries. Then, it began upgrading its mixed bag of Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 servers to Windows 2003 R2.

Thermadyne migrated 15 of its 28 offices to Windows Server 2003 in two phases, and put a data replication plan in place. It categorized its business into different functional units, and used a combination of training and permissions management to force users to save files in the appropriate folders on the network. It then created data replication policies between different functional units in different offices, based on data access needs.

Replication runs overnight, to minimize the effect on the network. It enables offices in different parts of the world to have the same data on their servers, minimizing the need for ad hoc transmissions at peak network times.

Using replication technology to make better use of existing lines proved to be less than a tenth of the cost of upgrading the network access links between regional offices and the private IP network, said Kataila. “And that’s just for one year,” he said – network costs are a yearly consideration, whereas the software licenses are paid for up-front. “If the project runs for 10 years, you’re looking at 1 per cent of the cost.”

Sixty per cent of the project budget was spent on the IP network backbone, which will be a recurring annual expense. Twenty-five per cent went on internal consulting to develop data storage and replication strategies. The remainder was spent on software licences.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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