SHAW'S NETWORK ENABLES NEW APPLICATIONS

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Shaw's Supermarkets here reports that network routers installed chainwide have dramatically increased the speed of data and voice transmissions and enabled the chain to implement a slew of new "network-centric" applications.In an interview with SN at the recent National Retail Federation convention and exposition in New York, Richard Gilbertson, vice president, ITS services

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Shaw's Supermarkets here reports that network routers installed chainwide have dramatically increased the speed of data and voice transmissions and enabled the chain to implement a slew of new "network-centric" applications.

In an interview with SN at the recent National Retail Federation convention and exposition in New York, Richard Gilbertson, vice president, ITS services for Shaw's, said the IP routers, model 6455 from Vanguard Managed Solutions, Mansfield, Mass., allowed combined voice and data transmissions from Shaw's 200 stores to move to headquarters "nine to 10 times faster" than in the past.

Installed about 18 months ago, the routers, in concert with an AT&T frame-relay network, have enabled Shaw's to implement a host of new applications over the past year, Gilbertson said.

For example, the chain was able to convert to a centrally hosted time-and-attendance/labor-scheduling system from Kronos. In addition, the network handles e-mail, real-time electronic payment processing and software updates.

For sending software updates to PCs and file servers in its stores, Shaw's implemented Software Delivery Option, from Computer Associates. "If Microsoft comes out with a security patch for PCs, we could manage it over the network," said Gilbertson. He said the chain may update stores with Microsoft Office over the network later this year.

Shaw's also uses the network for tasks it did in the past, such as polling of point-of-sale data, store orders, price changes, POS hosting and planograms. Overall, he said, "we use the network quite extensively," he said. "And we have the headroom to pump additional data through the network."

The Vanguard routers form a 256K (kilobits per second) connection, compared with the previous routers, from Newbridge, which formed a 56K, point-to-point connection.

The routers handle data sent via each store's Ethernet LAN (local area network), as well as voice sent from NEC phones in the store and conveyed as voice-over-frame transmissions to headquarters simultaneously with data. An ISDN connection can be used if the frame relay goes down. At headquarters, Shaw's employs a model 7330 central site router.

The stores have doubled the number of phone connections from two to four. "We needed more bandwidth and more voice traffic as well," said Gilbertson. "This solution allowed us that capability." The system also allows outside dial-up calls to be made for coin machines, wire transfers or the pharmacy.

According to Rick Olivieri, director, retail networking solutions, Vanguard, the store router used by Shaw's costs about $2,400, in the middle of the price spectrum.

Gilbertson described the frame relay WAN (wide area network) as "very reliable -- it moves data extremely well." He said that Shaw's chose voice-over-frame, rather than the increasingly popular voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) because when Shaw's evaluated VOIP 18 months ago, "we weren't happy with the voice quality."

Since then, he acknowledged, the quality of VOIP has improved. Shaw's competitor Hannaford Bros. uses VOIP and has begun installing IP-based phones (SN, Jan. 5, 2004, Page 31).

Olivieri said that the Vanguard routers can seamlessly switch to VOIP, enabling Shaw's to adopt it in the future, which Gilbertson's said was possible. Shaw's is also testing IP phones, added Gilbertson.