Retailer Builds a Robust Network Infrastructure

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2016-01-07 Email Print this article Print
Genesco's robust network infrastructure

Specialty retailer Genesco deployed an advanced software-defined WAN in order to more effectively manage both its physical stores and its digital business.

Designing and building a state-of-the-art enterprise network is increasingly critical for organizations across a wide swath of industries. For retailers, however, the task is amplified by a need to connect major enterprise applications, point of sale (POS) systems, loyalty data, analytics tools, rich media and much more—typically over lines that vary greatly, depending on the store and the Internet services available in the area.

Achieving the desired speed and bandwidth while optimizing network performance can be challenging. What's more, the task isn't getting any easier.

"There is a growing focus on digital media and rich content, and this requires additional technology in stores, which, in turn, places greater demands on network capacity," states Rik Reitmaier, CIO for Genesco, a Nashville, Tenn., specialty retailer that sells footwear, headwear, sports apparel and accessories at more than 2,800 retail stores and leased departments in North America and Europe.

Genesco, which owns high-profile brands such as Johnston & Murphy and Journeys, relies on 15 physical servers and approximately 500 virtual servers to connect to stores via ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) and T1 lines.

Although these communications technologies successfully power point-of-sale (POS) systems and other essential IT requirements, "We had begun to hit some constraints in terms of real-time video streaming and the ability to upload other rich media," Reitmaier reports. "It takes a long time to get all the stores updated with all the content that we desire."

Developing a Hybrid Software-Defined WAN

As a result, Genesco turned to network and communications firm EarthLink to develop a sophisticated hybrid software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution that powers its digital systems more efficiently. The technology optimizes cost and performance by using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) at larger, high-traffic sites, while using hybrid MPLS and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) virtual private networks (VPNs) at locations with lower demands and where low-cost Internet access options, including a digital subscriber line (DSL), are available.

The MPLS technology delivers built-in Class of Service (CoS)—covering real-time applications, such as voice and video—while the IPsec VPN can be deployed for affordable yet secure broadband access. The SD WAN also allows Genesco to benefit from dynamic load balancing of traffic between multiple networks. Dynamic WAN path selection chooses the most expedient path for each application, separating critical traffic and dynamically rerouting it when the primary route is congested.

What's more, "The SD WAN provides tools to view our entire network, including activities that take place beyond the scope of IT," Reitmaier explains. In fact, the environment delivers complete application visibility and control so that administrators can monitor, troubleshoot, and set alarms and performance benchmarks. Real-time dashboards display quality-of-service (QoS) scores per location for jitter, latency and packet loss, and they provide automatic system adjustments to preserve prioritization.

Genesco is also adopting another EarthLink solution, Cloud Express, which delivers cloud hosting tools that help address cloud sprawl and aid in managing compute, application and data resources more effectively across multiple commercial cloud providers.

"The goal is to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, latency and other performance issues," Reitmaier says. "The network is the nervous system for our business. We're building out a far more robust network architecture that will help us manage the business to better match the demands of today's requirements."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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