SDN system controls hundreds of Cisco routers; saves contractor time, money

A global environmental engineering company is turning to software-defined networking as a way to boost productivity and save money.

MWH Global, a Colorado-based construction manager of wet infrastructure – water transmission and transportation systems – is deploying a software-defined WAN to automate the set up and tear down of branch router networks at remote worksites and simplify management. MWH Global provides environmental engineering, strategic planning, construction, and management for water-related projects, including the expansion of the Panama Canal, building water treatment or desalination plants, water transmission systems, and storage facilities.

The company enlisted start-up Glue Networks and its Gluware software-defined WAN product line to manage hundreds of Cisco routers connecting 160 branches across six continents. The Gluware intelligent orchestration engine supports WAN/teleworker router architectures including the Cisco ISR and ASR 1000 product lines.

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MWH is migrating from an MPLS network that required three to six months to get a connection to a new site, to a broadband network that can provision remote sites worldwide in minutes. The new network will connect regional hubs in the U.S., U.K., Australia and India to the MWH core network optimizing global transit paths.

“Our business is project-driven,” says Greg Tornrose, vice president of information technology at MWH. “We need to establish a presence at the client site or project site quickly, we need to be able to do that cost-efficiently.”

One of the challenges MWH faced in establishing project sites is to quickly bring up a wide-area network that supports data, applications -- like 3D, 4D and 5D design modeling, and virtual design construction and visualization -- and voice and video so that IT-strapped staff at those sites can concentrate on waterway engineering and not network engineering.

“We’re putting more and more demand on our network and we need for it to be flexible and cost-efficient,” Tornrose says.

A longstanding issue for MWH and its MPLS network was the time it took to get project and new client sites connected. In and of itself, MPLS circuits took a long time to turn up. Complicating that is that some areas where MWH operates have limited connectivity options with high cost.

“It took a long time to get connected and it was also typically quite expensive,” Tornrose says. “Getting a router in was entirely manual, getting it configured was entirely manual. It required a lot of higher level IT network expertise in order to get things done.”

Using Glue’s Gluware, non-IT personnel at the MWH project site could establish a broadband Internet connection through the Cisco router and download an automated configuration from Glue. Gluware agent software on the Cisco routers is activated through a USB key and communicates with a Gluware configuration engine at one of MWH’s four regional headend sites in the US, U.K., India and Australia. Tornrose says this provides “low or no touch” provisioning on the part of MWH personnel. And that broadband Internet connection at project sites costs far less than an MPLS circuit, Tornrose says.

“They’ve taken a lot of the complexity out of getting a new site stood up,” he says. “It allowed us not be so heavily reliant on our limited staff of network engineers.”

In addition to quickly bringing up remote project sites, the software-defined WAN is encouraging MWH to reimagine its own WAN and wring out costs that can be invested elsewhere, such as in higher-speed, higher capacity circuits to branch offices, Tornrose says. MWH employs 8,000 people in 180 offices in 35 countries.

“It’s provided us the opportunity to re-envision the global WAN architecture,” he says.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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