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Abacus Group plc (www.abacus-group.co.uk) is a leading regional distributor of electronic components and value-added systems in Europe, with directly-owned company locations in every major European electronics market.


IN BRIEF

Industry

  • Electronics

Challenges

  • Improve application performance for remote users
  • Address low bandwidth problems affecting branch offices
  • Overcome network latency issues

Solution

  • Deployment of Steelhead appliances at the headquarters and 8 branch offices
  • Planned deployment of an additional 14 appliances across Europe

Benefits

  • £250,000 network upgrade costs avoided
  • 5x improvement in application performance
  • Bandwidth utilization reduced by 70% to 80%

Abacus Group plc

Riverbed Steelhead Appliances Enable Electronics Distributor to Accelerate Applications and Cut Network Costs

Abacus Group plc (www.abacus-group.co.uk) is a leading regional distributor of electronic components and value-added systems in Europe, with directly-owned company locations in every major European electronics market. Abacus is structured as three business divisions: Abacus ECD which encompasses component distribution activities, Abacus Displays which encompasses Abacus’ distribution businesses, and Abacus MFG which offers value-added services.

Abacus MFG also encompasses Dubilier, which offers its own brand of passives, emech components and batteries, and Eledis, which offers its own brand of switches. Established in 1972 as Abacus Electronics, the company has developed both by growth in its core business of component distribution, and by acquisition of related businesses. It now has 40 sites with 635 remote users.

Challenge: Communication and Collaboration among Growing Number of Remote Offices

Significant business expansion, both in the number of services provided to customers and to its physical network of UK regional and Europe-wide offices, together with a commensurate growth in network usage and traffic volumes, resulted in Abacus identifying a clear need to upgrade its network and taking the opportunity to eliminate some network-wide problems at the same time.

“First, we looked at our options to upgrade our network. That would have cost £250,000 to £300,000 but none of these options addressed the inherent latency issues — more bandwidth doesn’t necessarily mean faster,” explained Gary Jennings, Networks & Security Manager for Abacus.

Abacus had developed a bespoke application to manage all of the company’s core applications and operations such as warehousing, distribution and sales. However, the new application had proven to be very chatty across the network, and its performance over the WAN was greatly reduced due to network latency.

The application also put significant demand on the network due to the nature and volume of the data transmitted around the system. For example, files and software updates of up to 35MB were being distributed to each of its 635 remote users on a regular basis, taking approximately 1.5 hours per site to download.

Solution: Steelhead Appliances Eliminate the Effects of Latency

Abacus reviewed three possible acceleration products available in the market. Two of these were discounted for being prohibitively difficult to install and slow to deliver a return on investment. In addition, they were not able to demonstrate their ability to directly address the issues associated with Abacus’ key application.

“We reviewed Peribit, Expand and Riverbed,” explained Jennings, “and Riverbed was the one that impressed us the most. Its data algorithms are very intelligent and the latency angle that strips out TCP and protocol inefficiencies is excellent. Riverbed Steelhead appliances package up the transmission (Syn & Acks) down to 1 request, rather than repeating the process multiple times, which is so important with our new business system — especially once we deploy to Hong Kong.

Data lines in Asia back to the UK are so expensive, we are restricted to VPN. We cannot warrant an expensive data line for 3 users, so Riverbed provides us with an ideal alternative, especially with pre- population: we can move, update, etc. during the day here, so that they are in place for Hong Kong during their daytime. We will look to do similar strategies with Europe as the new business system rolls out.”

“Riverbed offered us a pilot FOC and the pre-sales team was very helpful throughout. The trial was run over 4–6 weeks at each of the 3 selected sites. Basingstoke was the first site to run the new application, so testing on this site was important to enable us to gauge true metrics of how the Steelhead appliances would work. Leighton Buzzard, another test site, is one of our busiest sales offices and generates large volumes of the data to be transmitted over the network. This site was fast approaching the limit of its bandwidth capacity.” Jennings recalled.

After these tests, Jennings decided to roll out Riverbed Steelhead appliances to each of its offices.

Benefits: Improved Application Performance and Reduced Bandwidth Utilization

During the tests, the Steelhead appliances recorded increases of up to 5x improvement in application performance. “The pilot testing was very good and convinced us that the technology was more than acceptable to roll out throughout the rest of the sites in the UK and Europe,” noted Jennings.

End users also noticed a difference. Jennings said, “When we deployed Steelhead appliances, people noticed something was dramatically different with the network. Workers from remote sites were now able to download files from across the WAN as if they were working on a LAN. The complaints into IT fell dramatically.”

“The IT department has noticed many additional benefits since the deployment of Riverbed,” Jennings continued, “Steelhead appliances have reduced our bandwidth consumption by 70%–80%, providing a hard cost benefit. Also, with the number of complaints from end-users being reduced, IT staff can utilize their time on the deployment of the new application and looking at strategic development projects.”

“Further tests at another UK site identified a reduction of 96% in Exchange traffic when using Riverbed Steelhead appliances,” Gary added. “These results demonstrated the performance benefits of the Steelhead appliances, and the advantages to a network under pressure. In addition, we have saved significant costs when compared to the purchase of additional bandwidth alone.”

In addition, ease-of-use was a key differentiator for the Steelhead appliance. “It took just 2 hours to set up the 8 Steelhead appliances. It was very easy to do and the deployment can be done without the support of 3rd parties”, stated Jennings. Abacus Director of IT, Stefan Maja, commented that he was “delighted with the implementation of the Steelhead products and would not want to have the Steelhead appliances removed from the IT infrastructure.”

To date, Abacus has deployed eight Riverbed Steelhead appliances, and, based on the initial results, improvements in performance and user satisfaction, Abacus plans to install an additional 14 appliances throughout Europe.

SUMMARY

Abacus Group plc is rapidly expanding through natural growth and acquisitions, and as it has grown so has its network traffic. But users in branch offices were suffering from poor application performance due to latency and WAN bandwidth congestion.

To address their needs Abacus looked at multiple acceleration products, as well as the option to upgrade their WAN bandwidth.

With the installation of Riverbed Steelhead appliances, Abacus has improved application performance by 5x and reduced bandwidth utilization by 70% to 80%. IT infrastructure costs have been reduced, and IT resources have been freed up to focus on strategic IT projects.

“It took just 2 hours to set up the 8 Steelhead appliances. It was very easy to do and the deployment can be done without the support of 3rd parties.”

“With the number of complaints from end-users being reduced, IT staff can utilize their time on the deployment of the new application and looking at strategic development projects.”

“When we deployed Steelhead appliances, workers from remote sites were able to download files from across the WAN as if they were working on a LAN. The complaints into IT fell dramatically.”

“We have saved significant costs when compared to the purchase of addition al bandwidth alone.”

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