How Do You Protect Your Customers' WANs?
ACE Hardware chooses integrator CCITRIAD to install wide area network security technologies at its stores.
Each year, millions of Americans plan home improvement projects that require a visit to the local hardware store. Of course, the last thing these Bob Vila wanna-bes want to find out is that the store doesn't have the particular widget they so desperately need.That's why companies like ACE Hardware (Chicago) go to great lengths to ensure accurate inventory visibility and speedy replenishment. For ACE, that's quite a chore since the company has 5,100 locations around the world.
In 2002, ACE began a project to improve communication between its headquarters and stores. The plan was to install a WAN (wide area network) that would use each store's Internet connection for exchanging data (e.g. inventory, sales) with the company's headquarters and warehouses.
Keep The Competition Out
For a project of this magnitude, ACE needed help with broadband provisioning (i.e. the sourcing of ADSL [asymmetric digital subscriber line], SDSL [symmetric digital subscriber line], or cable circuits), firewall deployment/monitoring, on-site hardware service, and anti-virus distribution. One of the companies that responded to the project's RFP (request for proposal) was CCITRIAD (Austin, TX). With 110 field offices, CCITRIAD provides technology solutions to manufacturers, wholesalers, and retail distributors in such industry segments as automotive parts, hardware, lumber, nurseries, plumbing, paint, building, and electrical supply.
CCITRIAD was no stranger to ACE; the integrator has worked for years as a provider of technology solutions (e.g. EagleVision software, professional services, network connectivity, supply chain analytics) to ACE's base of 5,000 independent dealers. "We were already working with ACE on centralizing critical store functions such as inventory control, general ledger, and accounts payable," states Mark Fair, VP of hardware services at CCITRIAD. "Using our national field service and support engineering teams for network deployment and monitoring was a natural progression in our partnership with ACE."
According to Fair, the project was highly competitive with a variety of network service providers responding to the RFP. CCITRIAD bid on all of the project's components except broadband provisioning. In February 2003, the integrator gave its first proposal to ACE. Final negotiations were completed in May 2003 when CCITRIAD was selected for the job. "I believe we were chosen for this project for two reasons," Fair explains. "First, we offered a single solution that included all of the required components and services except broadband provisioning. Secondly, we already had a strong partnership with ACE."
Provide A Constant VPN Connection
In addition to EagleVision software, the ACE solution consists of Dell (Round Rock, TX) and SonicWALL (Sunnyvale, CA) hardware. Dell OptiPlex PCs are used as servers for most of ACE's smaller stores, while the larger locations are being equipped with Dell PowerEdge servers. Once the servers and software are installed, the next step is to add a direct VPN (virtual private network) connection to ACE headquarters. This will be accomplished by using SonicWALL TELE3 SP and PRO 230 VPN/firewall appliances. The majority of ACE locations will use the TELE3 SP, since it is designed for businesses such as retailers who need to ensure a constant network connection even when a broadband connection fails. (See sidebar at left.) CCITRIAD is also deploying SonicWALL's GMS (Global Management System) software. This application allows CCITRIAD to provision and enforce security policies across the entire network from a central location. According to Fair, ACE's internal network support group was familiar with SonicWALL's products.
"SonicWALL was very supportive throughout the sales cycle of this project," he says. "We used its business development department to assist us in scoping this project. We also discussed our prior success in deploying approximately 2,500 VPNs for another partner - nearly 600 of which included SonicWALL products. However, it should be noted that SonicWALL could not exclusively endorse our firm since some of its other VARs were competing for ACE's business."
A Three- To Five-Year Project
ACE plans to deploy CCITRIAD's solution over the next three to five years. Currently, the two companies meet weekly to discuss integration process objectives as well as ways to customize the SonicWALL GMS.
Training is also ongoing. For example, CCITRIAD provides each store with basic troubleshooting and service training for the firewalls. For more serious problems, CCITRIAD offers ACE's retailers a service and support contract. "Our solution bundles break/fix services with firewall monitoring and anti-virus services," Fair explains. "For new systems/upgrades, we bundle the firewall installation into the new system to eliminate the need for multiple service visits."
The new WAN provides ACE with a real-time connection to all of its stores. And since the EagleVision software has sales reporting functions built-in, ACE's headquarters can periodically poll stores for inventory transactions and perform functions such as inventory replacement.
In the future, some stores will be equipped with wireless handheld bar code scanners and wireless LANs to further improve the inventory process. CCITRIAD also plans to offer legacy upgrades of both firewalls and computer hardware to ACE stores during the next few years. These types of IT improvements will help keep ACE stores stocked with all the products a do-it-yourselfer would ever need.