VPN Services Case Study
Air Products Builds on a Strong Global Network Foundation (Cont'd)
With ANIRA, we’ve been able to improve some of the latency between the operating centers and the plants, which translates to more efficient operations."
- Bob Elward, Director, IT Infrastructure Engineering, Air Products
About Air Products
Air Products Facts
Expand existing network capabilities to deliver remote access connectivity to hundreds of small and unmanned sites cost efficiently and effectively
Global broadband solution via AT&T Network-based IP VPN Remote Access service with sourcing and end-to-end management provided by AT&T
Reduced latency and enhanced security; IT staff freed from day-to-day oversight
Industrial gases and chemical products
More than 21,000 employees and 750 sites worldwide
Air Products is a leading provider of atmospheric, process and specialty gases as well as performance materials, equipment and technology solutions. The company brings more than 70 years of industry experience, technological innovation and growth to the global marketplace. It serves a wide range of industries including agriculture, electronics, energy, food, and transportation. Headquartered in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Air Products has more than 21,000 employees in 50-plus countries and generated $10.2 billion in sales in fiscal 2013.
To manage its extensive operations, Air Products has relied on AT&T for an array of end-to-end managed services and capabilities. These include a global managed virtual private network (VPN) and Global Network operations centers that monitor and respond to any VPN situations that may arise. Now Air Products was looking to improve and deliver a cost-effective solution for supporting and expanding VPN connectivity to hundreds of remote locations, a number of which are unmanned sites. Attempts to handle this in-house had proved challenging. Air Products did not want to burden its IT team with such a complex undertaking.
Air Products chose to update its global IT infrastructure with AT&T Network-based Remote Access (ANIRA) service. Once again, AT&T acts as an integrator, assisting with procurement, help desk support and end-to-end management for this highly secure solution. The result: higher performance from the Air Products network—and fewer distractions for the staff.
We don’t do any physical ordering of equipment or local connections. We really rely on AT&T for upfront provisioning, ongoing support and extensive performance monitoring.”
- Bill Folk, Director, IT Infrastructure Operations, Air Products
A Growing Global Provider
Air Products has a mission to make the world more productive, energy efficient and sustainable. The company serves a worldwide customer base with more than 50 percent of its revenues generated outside of the U.S.
Though they don’t make headlines, the thousands of products and services Air Products supports are fundamental to modern life. The company supplies oxygen, nitrogen, argon, helium, hydrogen and specialty gases, and provides generators to make gases on site. From the mill where oxygen heats a steel blast furnace to the semiconductor clean room to the hospital, where liquid helium cools MRI machines, Air Products is there.
The company uses multiple distribution methods, including small containers, pipelines and generation facilities located in or near customer plants. The far-reaching Air Products supply chain is just as varied. Some products, like oxygen and nitrogen, are literally created out of thin air. Others come from coal, petroleum and other sources.
Building on an IP Platform
To help knit together its far-flung operations, Air Products relies on AT&T. At its foundation is a global IP virtual private network with class of service capabilities. The network reinforces Air Products’ efforts to centralize IT and run a single instance of SAP enterprise software.
AT&T provides ongoing IT assessment, implementation and end-to-end management of the company’s LAN and WAN environments. IP voice solutions are layered on this foundation via hosting arrangements in AT&T Internet Data Centers in Redditch, U.K. and Singapore.
With a robust IP platform in place, Air Products can layer on solutions that address its business challenges. The company next wanted to tackle the hundreds of global sites that are unmanned or that are staffed by limited numbers of personnel.
Small Sites Pose Big Challenges
Many of Air Products small sites are monitored and managed remotely from the company’s regional operation centers, using advanced systems that depend on highly secure, virtually real-time communication of video and data. “We have state-of-the-art consoles with multiple monitors per operator, watching all aspects of the plants," said Bob Elward, Director, IT Infrastructure Engineering.
Quality network access is critical to operating these sites, yet many are located in remote areas, with limited options for network access. “Our only economical way to get our field sites onto our network backbone was to backhaul them into the regional data centers,” said Bill Folk, Director, IT Infrastructure Operations.
The resulting communication delay, or latency, impacted the performance of the operational monitoring platform. "It’s an issue of the responsiveness of the screen--what the operator in the remote center sees and how quickly the screen refreshes,” said Elward. Such network delay made remote sites seem even more distant. “It was pretty clear we needed something that was more globally available, but we didn’t know how to do that," he said.
“Support and maintenance can be tricky without someone on site,” added Folk. “The routers used to create VPN tunnels go out of date, so you have to keep that lifecycle going. Then you have to build infrastructure back into your regional data centers and keep that fresh. And you have to manage the capacity too. The whole picture is quite overwhelming.”
Without extensive internal IT resources, piecing together an integrated global solution was difficult. Air Products was faced with building connectivity site-by-site, relying on local service providers who delivered varying capabilities and costs.
Better Performance, Easier Management
To extend its VPN to the remote locations, Air Products engaged AT&T to implement a new global broadband logistics solution-- AT&T Network-based IP VPN Remote Access service. ANIRA expands connectivity to the VPN by enabling a range of access methods and allowing connections from any device or end-point. The solution has been implemented at 200 sites so far, with more in process.
"ANIRA offers a much better option for us to get those sites onto the MPLS backbone," said Folk. Without having to travel back to the regional data center, the speed of network traffic is increased. This is critical for unmanned sites, where network communication provides the only source of information. "With ANIRA, we’ve been able to improve some of the latency between the operating centers and the plants, which translates to more efficient operations," Elward said.
Another advantage: better emergency backup. “ANIRA gives us a much more flexible option to provide backup to some of our higher-end sites,” said Folk. “With ANIRA we will be able to more effectively use broadband for MPLS backup and even explore wireless backup in the future.”
Next on the Horizon
Using performance reports it gets from AT&T, Air Products is more strategically integrating its IT infrastructure with business operations. Monthly review meetings with AT&T are part of the discipline. Air Products uses what it learns to decide how the company’s operations could further benefit from IT solutions. “Those meetings are very helpful,” said Folk. “We’re trying to look broadly at services, not just at the exceptions.”
Next on the horizon is upgrading its existing VPN. “The sooner the better, because it paves the way for even more services, like enhanced video, and gives us more flexibility moving forward,” Folk said.
Business continuity is also part of the plan. Air Products already uses an AT&T data center to back up data stored in its main center. Now it is implementing AT&T Ultravailable Network Service (UVN) rings to drive performance and superior redundancy in key locations. “We had a near miss with Hurricane Sandy,” said Folk. “As a result we’re working with AT&T to provide us more redundancy at our core sites.”
Two Teams Acting as One
With AT&T handling the end-to-end management of the IP voice platform, the global VPN, the global broadband solution and more, Air Products is relieved of the intricacies of infrastructure management. “We don’t do any physical ordering of equipment or local connections. We really rely on AT&T for upfront provisioning, ongoing support and extensive performance monitoring,” said Folk.
Because of that support, the Air Products IT team can focus its attention elsewhere. “We’re not trying to monitor, manage or maintain the AT&T network. We rely on a very good service organization to do that for us,” Folk said. “We can dedicate our internal engineers to solving business problems and finding new and innovative ways to utilize the network, versus spending all their time on day-to-day support.”
The two companies have built a close and productive relationship. “It feels like our AT&T team is really part of the Air Products team,” said Folk. “They are our advocates when it comes to issues and to pricing. They understand how important this is to us and they act accordingly. The awareness and involvement at the senior level really helps to support the overall partnership approach.”