WAN traffic, applications fastballed for baseball maker

WAN traffic was sluggish for Rawlings, to the point where it was on the verge of losing a major customer. The sporting goods maker hunted down solutions to ensure that traffic gets the treatment it deserves.

WAN traffic was a big swing and miss for Rawlings, the sporting goods maker that manufactures the baseballs and helmets used by Major League Baseball, among other products.

Applications were seeing crawling response times, unnecessary traffic was clogging the pipes, and customers were none too pleased.

With online business booming and growing online customer demand, the bandwidth clogs and high volume of backup traffic were eating away at supply chain traffic, adversely affecting order fulfillment for customers.

According to Jack Matthews, MIS director for Rawlings, the slow response times put Rawlings in danger of losing one of its largest customers, because that customer, Best Buy, was having trouble submitting sales orders.

"It was quickly approaching the point where we were going to lose them as a customer," Matthews said.

Bandwidth was tight for Rawlings, which had a T1 connection but no visibility into what type of traffic was traversing it. Matthews said the company allotted some money for network probes in order to determine the source of intermittent plunges in available bandwidth. Instead, the company's reseller turned it on to Packeteer's PacketShaper.

During the evaluation process, Matthews was able to determine that end users were causing significant problems by hogging bandwidth for streaming media. Matthews and his teams were able to identify the offending traffic and chop it out.

Mike Hummel, senior account executive with Rawlings' reseller Result Technologies, said sniffing out the offending traffic took no time at all and prompted Rawlings to immediately cancel the probe order it had already set in motion.

"Within an hour, the PacketShaper isolated a single user downloading streaming video content that was devouring Rawlings' network bandwidth," Hummel said. "Not only did Rawlings shut that user down, but [it] started using PacketShaper to gain new views into its network traffic in order to implement policy-based network application and quality of service controls."

Identifying which traffic was creating backups, Matthews said, also solved a bit of infighting: He and his team were blaming the application for slow response, while the applications team was pointing at the network.

"We didn't have a way to test the application," he said. "Our ability to see where the problem was was limited. We thought it was on the application side, not the network side."

Once the problem was identified, Matthews was able to flag the traffic and remediate it so it wouldn't come back.

After deploying multiple PacketShapers, the improvement in performance was noticeable almost immediately, he said. The company can now set up guaranteed classes of service to accelerate and prioritize specific applications. With supply chain and transactional apps, he said, Rawlings is able to fulfill more orders than before.

In addition, having greater visibility into applications and bandwidth demand lets Rawlings avoid over-provisioning its network traffic requirements. Matthews uses PacketShaper to compress traffic between backup sites and the data center and also to ensure the company doesn't go above "burstable levels," which protects it from billing surprises from its service provider.

For three years, Rawlings has also been running an all-VoIP network and has been able to create QoS policies for voice traffic with class of service protection using existing bandwidth to avoid unnecessary network upgrades.

"It is very helpful to make sure you have bandwidth allocated at a higher level to guarantee adequate services for VoIP traffic," Matthews said.

But mostly, it was a new level of visibility that gave Rawlings the edge it was looking for.

"I felt really stupid not knowing what was going on on the network," Matthews said.

Rich Truex, Rawlings' manager of operations/networks, said everyone involved benefits from a higher-fidelity network, which the company wouldn't have been able to achieve with various point products.

"Deploying one-trick-pony appliances is purely a quick fix to a short-term pain," he said, "and we don't have the resources or budget to manage that kind of near-sighted IT model."


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