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Sun 15 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Sitting pretty

High charges and slow connections prompted Pan Emirates to find a smarter way to connect its regional network of furniture stores. ACN reports on the project.

High charges and slow connections prompted Pan Emirates to find a smarter way to connect its regional network of furniture stores. ACN reports on the project.

"As soon as I got the first big bill from Etisalat, I started planning to change!" Eyas Khashan, director of information technology resources at Pan Emirates Home Furnishings is quite clear about what prompted him to improve his inter-store connectivity: the high charges for excess data he was receiving while using standard ADSL connections.

The furniture retailer has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, and now operates 11 branches across the UAE, Qatar and Oman, and is set to launch a number of new outlets in the near future, taking advantage of the region's boom - and not least the large number of new arrivals to the Middle East, a large proportion of which tend to buy furniture from new when setting up home.

Established in 1991, the firm runs its operations from its head office in Sharjah in the UAE.

Pan Emirates has connections from each of its branches to its head office, which handle all its data, from ERP and point-of-sale systems to e-mail, warehouse management, and VOIP.

The firm is currently in the process of changing from ADSL connections to an MPLS (Multi-Protoocol Layer Switching) network for all its locations.

"If you look at the monthly charges with ADSL, they are US$760 a month, but with a download limit of 20Gbytes. Since we have too many downloads, any data being transferred from branch to head office is charged by Etisalat, at around $13 per 100Mbytes.

Sometimes in a month we were paying $3270 a month per branch. This is as good as having a 2Mbit/s MPLS connection," Khashan says.

By having a fixed charge with unlimited downloads on MPLS, it will save us money; I'll pay maybe $820, which is fixed, for unlimited downloads.

Now I know that I'll pay $27,250 a month in total, fixed. With the previous scenario - VPN over ADSL - the minimum charge was $19,000, but it could reach $41,000."

Aside from the excess data charges, Khashan was also receiving a number of complaints from users in branch locations about the slow speed of applications over ADSL - especially in comparison to the 1Gbit/s network in place within the Pan Emirates headquarters.

"When I received these calls, I started looking around for the best solution, the latest technology; I found the best option was to go for a WAN accelerator, which would help improve performance.

If I didn't have the WAN accelerator, I would need a minimum of 2Mbit/s everywhere - but with the accelerator, I can reduce this to 128kbit/s," he says.

UNDER THE VENEER: Pan Emirates’ IT systemsWAN:Etisalat MPLS

WAN acceleration:Juniper

IP telephony:Avaya




Warehouse management:HighJump

Retail:Microsoft Dynamics

Business intelligence:Business Objects

"So around six months ago, we started looking for the best solution - we saw Juniper, Cisco and Blue Coat, had them give demos, and decided to go for the Juniper product. This was based on both performance and price - performance-wise it was the best.

The technical people were also the best. When Blue Coat came to do the demo, it was a complete failure - how can I go for the full project if the demo doesn't work?" asks Khashan.

The other major element of the WAN accelerator deployment was the choice of East Meets West (EMW) as integrator. Khashan had first worked with EMW during Pan Emirates' VOIP deployment 18 months ago, when Avaya, vendor of the IP phones for the project, recommended the integrator.

"I‘m very happy with the support from EMW - its technical staff are very good. I decided that even if there were a lower-priced product, I would go with EMW because of its service and support," says Khashan.

The previous Avaya IP telephony implementation had allowed Pan Emirates to move to a centralised call centre, and also introduce extension-to-extension dialling among its branches.

This was done over the ADSL connections, although because it is in a regulatory grey area, Etisalat said it was unable to certificate the use of the IP telephony system officially.

Moving to MPLS will also improve the operation of the VOIP system - along with the other applications running over the connections - thanks to the guaranteed bandwidth. Depending on the individual requirements, each Pan Emirates branch will have connection bandwidth of between 128kbit/s and 2Mbit/s.

Having completed the plan, Khashan expects the implementation of MPLS and the Juniper WAN accelerator to be fully complete by the start of June in the head office, with branch deployments to follow afterwards.

"We are planning for every branch to have one day for the implementation, once we receive the equipment from EMW. We have 11 branches - so we'll finish in 11 days," predicts Khashan with a significant degree of confidence.

He expects this process to be very trouble-free, thanks to the ease of deployment of the Juniper system, which simply sits between the in-store router and the external MPLS network.

As Pan Emirates expands and prepares to open a number of new stores, including a flagship branch in Dubai, the firm's IT team will still be hard at work, introducing a new in-store wireless network, and upgrading the HighJump warehouse management system, as well as a number of other upgrade and maintenance projects on its IT systems.

As for the MPLS/WAN acceleration implementation, once the new system is fully operational Khashan expects to get a return on the (not insignificant) $275,000 investment within a year, on a project which has succeeded in delivering improvements in service and cost reductions simultaneously.

High wirelessA major project on the horizon for Pan Emirates will be the installation and upgrade of a new Wi-Fi system for its stores, says Khashan:

"I'm planning to change the wireless networks in all the branches to Trapeze centralised management wireless; currently we have standalone access points. I've already started installing Trapeze in new branches - the next project will be to change over existing wireless networks to Trapeze.

"This will be in 2009, not this year. The new branch in Barsha, next to the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, will be the second branch with Trapeze - it will probably have around 150 access points.

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