The company originally planned to upgrade its 120-store ISDN2-based branch network because of inefficiencies in the network and bandwidth constraints.
The network was previously used to poll each store at the close of business and to pass trading data back to head office. The new IP virtual private network supports not only this application but also provides Courts with a network capable of running new in-store applications, customer relationship management systems and logistics. The previous link was only able to poll data once a day.
Mark Gamlin, Courts' voice and data network manager (UK), said, "Traffic across the network peaks at the end of the business day when the IT system polls each of the stores to tell them to dial back and download their trading data.
"Data volumes were just going up and up - as was the cost - and we were in real danger of running out of bandwidth."
Courts has now completed the roll-out of Inpurple, an IP VPN operated by SwitchIP, which specialises in providing quality of service standards for voice, data and videoconferencing over broadband. Courts expects to make annual savings of at least £100,000 by moving off ISDN2 and to increase bandwidth across its wide area network by a factor of eight.
Gamlin said he was originally concerned about security on IP-based networks, but added, "Our head of security has been running intrusion tests and was unable to break in."
Although the IP network has been running since Christmas 2002, Gamlin said Courts took the decision to leave the ISDN2 network in place as a back-up. But he said he was happy with the performance of the IP network and was now ready to switch off the ISDN2 network.
SwitchIP was also able to defer some of the costs associated with the move to an IP-based environment by integrating Inpurple into the existing Courts network. This meant that Inpurple could be overlaid across the network without the need to take out any legacy equipment and start again from scratch.
Courts is now beginning a joint partnership with SwitchIP to develop a bespoke system to replace the telephones in its head office and 77 superstores with IP handsets. Within five years, Gamlin said Courts will roll out IP telephony across all its stores.
Gamlin said the benefit of voice over IP for Courts is that, "There is no need for us to dial in, which takes up a line a customer could use. We can contact our sites free of charge and transfer calls easily."
The set-up involves connecting the IP network into PBXs at the head office. For stores where a digital phone connection is not possible, Gamlin said he will be deploying Dect phones for back-office staff.