“Unbelievable” was my first thought; don’t think I’d ever seen anything like it. I was at the former network headend in WPAPS new building, and while there were network points on the wall, and bare cables at the head end, the signal tracer I used only worked on a handful. Didn’t matter which end I injected it from, the signal just disappeared. This lead to a lot of crawling around tracing cables, trying to find holes in walls and ceilings where the cable runs went through. Until at last here I was looking inside a conduit, that for some reason was made of wood, and I could see a whole load of cables had been cut, with some sections removed.
Can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that, but it does show that when you move in to a new building, assume nothing.
When WPAPS moved in to their new production facility and found the wreck of the old network they were forced to literally throw cables round the shop floor in order to begin work.
The result was unstable and very slow, with multiple small switches daisy chained off each other, data been moved on USB sticks as shares couldn’t see each other, and wifi dead spots.
It was almost immediately clear that they would need a new network as the business was growing very quickly, and it was critical that operations would not be interrupted while the work was carried out.
I was asked to assess the current setup, and to provide a solution that would deliver everything that the business required.
WPAPS the client
WPAPS is a rapidly growing print service provider for numerous internet based retailers. They produce a vast array of printed products, mugs, towels and cushions, phone and laptop cases, note books, and canvases, with new products been added to the line-up continuously.
I am an independent IT engineer who specialises in helping small businesses get their IT working reliably and keeping it working as the company develops.
Initially a structured wiring solution that covered the site fully seemed to be the correct answer, however as WPAPS settled in to the growth phase, and I learned more about how the business was planning it’s future, as well as details of the workflow on the shop floor, another plan formed.
I always consider it vital to get a detailed understanding of how a business is running, and how it wants to run before I can be confident in the designs I provide. My experience has taught me that one size never fits anyone. Every company has unique problems, pressure points, and goals. Any solution that doesn’t include these factors will rapidly be redundant.
The most important objective of the new network was to be fast and flexible in an environment that was continually changing. WPAPS introduced new products to the production almost monthly during 2017, which meant new equipment was always been added. The layout of the workshop was evolving just as fast with frequent rearrangements of the production environment, both to optimise workflow and to make space for new devices.
Any network that couldn’t adapt to future changes was out of the question. A layout which fixed workshop equipment in place wouldn’t be acceptable, and one with so many points it could deal with any possible permutation was far too expensive.
My proposed solution was to run new cable to key points around the site, where a workgroup switch would be located for the machines in that section. All of these cables would connect to a single high spec managed switch at the centre of the network. All of the critical infrastructure would be located there in a new rack.
WPAPS utilises cloud based on demand print software from OneFlow, so the existing copper based ADSL connection needed to be upgraded to a 100Mb BTNet fibre to feed data in and out of their new network at maximum speed, and to increase uptime as the broadband would fail frequently.
Been cloud based OneFlow uses local agent software to manage tasks in the workflow. To increase throughput the original agent server would be joined by others so the workflow could be divided up in to separate parts, thus simultaneously increasing throughout and reliability.
The installation had to be done without turning off the existing network, as production schedules required the printers were fed a continuous supply of customer images. The plan involved building the new network with the old one still in use, then joining the two together so that devices on either network could see each other, and migrating everything across so the old one could be decommissioned.
The new high speed fibre now runs through a dedicated firewall appliance, which not only provides better security than the standard ADSL router, but allows traffic management for the different data flows generated by One Flow, improving reliability.
One interesting problem presented when needing to get cables across the steel beams of the shop floor, without disturbing production, and with no space for the correct access ladders. String threaded through a hole drilled in a ball allowed me to throw a line across so the cables could be pulled over the top of the beams. It’s needing to be flexible in creating solutions that is the main differentiator between working with large and small businesses, and why I enjoy the small ones so much.
The customer images were also stored in the cloud, but that meant multiple PCs pulling the same image down, creating more internet traffic. The cloud is great for the right application, but there are times when it is not the correct way to go. A fault tolerant TerraStation NAS was added to the network and all the customer images are stored there so any PC that needs them can access via a hierarchy of shares. Since the LAN is always faster than the WAN this has allowed images to be processed quicker.
Power over Ethernet Netgear access points were mounted at each end of the site to replace the single poorly located BT broadband wifi.
The result is a significantly faster network with zero outages since deployment. Wireless devices have full coverage and high speed. Data can be seen by all production computers at all times, with faster transfer rates. By having multiple software agents running work can still be produced even if one agent is under heavy load. Internet has not gone down since the fibre was installed.
The client is extremely pleased with the resulting increase in productivity and the ease with which new machines and work flows can be adopted.
How I was able to transform the WPAPS network from ruin to reliable