Published in the online magazine Searchnetworking
Complete network redesign for the mail order seller Engelbert Strauss
The ostrich of the Engelbert Strauss logo doesn't have to stick the head in the sand. The company is successful and uses a well working IT network.
„Our new store should enable us to double the number of daily shipped parcels“, says Matthias Fischer, Head of IT at the mail order seller Engelbert Strauss. „One condition was, that also our network follows this growth and overcomes any kind of disturbance“. The IT service provider blue networks decided amongst others on network technology of Extreme Networks.
In 2007 Engelbert Strauss decided to do a complete redesign of their IT infrastructure. This means: getting rid of relics and starting with glass fibre, support of multiple spanning tree and at least 100 VLANs! The company's growth necessitated the investments. Because the Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG located in the Hessian village Biebergemünd belongs to the leading european mail order sellers for working clothes and work protection.
The warehouse in Spessart area has steadily around 15.000 articles from dust masks over office supplies up to functional clothing and workshop equipment in stock. About 400 employees of the family-run business daily make sure, that any order is handled at least over night and so delivered within 24h to the customer.
In the year 2000 the mail order reseller expanded the only in 1994 completed store- and administration buildings in the 35.000 square metres large company ground notably. Another six years later the planning for another expansion of the logistics centre, the office blocks and logistics capacities.
High availability is essential
But the success poses also IT challenges to the company. As at many medium sized companies, the local net at the site Biebergemünd has been growing with the enterprise over the years. To implement a solid basis of the IT for the future in the course of expansion, in the end of 2007 the company charged the IT service provider blue networks from Altenstadt with developing a sustainable concept.
At first blue networks analyzed the existing components and then developed a new network design. Peer Kohlstetter, CEO of blue networks, stated: „For Engelbert Strauss a one-day downtime of the network could hardly be caught up at this distribution volume. Therefore we decided, together with the customer, to perform a complete redesign of the IT-infrastructure. In so doing we were able to implement the best possible solution and to avoid at the same time that perhaps eventually relics could influence the mains operation negatively.“
Redesign with redundancy
The new network design envisages two central Layer-3-Switches in the core. These provide a complete redundancy at the link of about 20 floor splitters. In addition every Edge-Switch is connected with both Core-Switches per Uplink. If in this scenario the core-switch eventually fails, the spanning-tree-protocol (STP) calculates a substitute way. The second core switch is able to keep up the complete networking alone.
This concept includes also that the numerous servers of the company are connected with the core via ample bandwidth. For the backbone therefore only a 10-Gigabit-Ethernet can be considered.
All parts of buildings are reachable per glass fiber. That is why the design renounces a distribution level. All Edge-Switches find a direct access to the core switches directly via Gigabit-Ethernet glass fiber lines.
Choice of components
In the beginning of 2008 the Head of IT of Engelbert Strauss charged his system partner with the choice of adequate network components. On the list of potential candidates were on the one hand products of Hewlett-Packard as existing supplier and on the other hand products of Cisco as worldwide largest producer of switches. As a third candidate blue networks nominated the Californian company Extreme Networks, because this service provider has already experience with switches of this Ethernet specialist.
Selection criterions for the core- and edge-switches were amongst others Layer-3-Switching, support of multiple-spanning-tree and at least 100 VLANs as well as an efficient Stacking-Technology at the networks edge. Peer Kohlstetter remembers: „All three suppliers could keep up well with Switching, the VLANs and at the Spanning-Tree. At the Stacking theme the switches of HP have been dropped out, as they were only stackable over a normal Gigabit-Ethernet-link, whereas Cisco can stack their devices with 32 Gigabit per second and Extreme Network even with 40 Gigabit per second.“
The decision was finally taken in favor of Extreme Networks, as their devices were able to score clearly in various areas. The determining factor was „the really successful stacking-technology of the Edge-Switches“ as well as the management software „Epicenter“. Besides the prices of the products of Extreme Networks were even about 20 percent more attractive than the Cisco products’ prices.
Migration during daily business
Black Diamond 8806 of Extreme Networks is part of the Core-Net at Engelbert Strauss. For the new network blue networks provided initially four modular Chassis-Switches of „Black Diamond 8806“ type. Two of these switches form the network core with one Management-Switch-Module „MSM-48“each and a 10-Gigabit-Ethernet-Modul „10G4Xa“ .
Two further „Black Diamond 8806“ with the same 10-GBE-Modul as well as two 48-Port-GBE-Modulen „G48Te“ each provide the access of the Server-Farm to the net. The four Black Diamond-Switches are connected with each other over a ring structure with 10-Gigabit-Ethernet.
Both Core-Switches supply a 10-GBE-Uplink each to the marketing department, which works with very large data and according to this needs more bandwidth. All other Edge-Switches are connected with the core switch per Gigabit-Ethernet.
In the first step of the migration the IT service provider installed the four Extreme-Switches in parallel to the old infrastructure and established a temporary connection to the existing network core. On altogether ten evenings and week-ends the technicians configured at 20 floor splitters in total 50 stackable Edge-Switches of „Summit X250“ and „Summit X450“ type and connected them per glass fiber to the core-switches.
In doing so, the service provider migrated the existing networks to the new infrastructure step by step. The installation of the network at the new logistics center could be performed throughout the usual business hours. During the migration the blue networks technicians solved all appearing problems directly on-site, so that the adjustment could be effected without any interferences of the daily business.
Sufficient space for further growth
Capacity expansion at edge ports or the redundant link of further servers is a mere child’s play with the new network. In the first case the IT department puts another device on the existing edge switch and links the components with the 40-GBit-Stacking-connection. For additional ports in the core or at the server switches there are sufficient empty slots in the Black Diamond-Chassis available.
The blue networks team takes care of the Engelbert Strauss network since 2009, also during the daily business. The employees of the IT department of the mail order seller handle smaller changes at the configuration directly themselves on-site via the graphic surface of the Management-Software Epicenter. A large flat screen on the wall of the Network Operation Center of Engelbert Strauss shows detailed networks graphs. Head of IT Matthias Fischer gives the explanation: „As we do now have redundant paths in our network, we would not be aware if a connection failed. But with the flat screen and Epicenter we always have an eye for our complete network“.
Georg von der Howen is a freelance journalist in Munich.
Die Weidenbach 6
Tel.: +49 6047 987710
Fax: +49 6047 987719
HessenKom GmbH & Co. KG
Die Weidenbach 6
Tel.: +49 6047 987710
Fax: +49 6047 987719