AusBulk shapes bandwidth load to remote sites

With bandwidth stretched to capacity and the potential for disastrous errors in data due to dropouts increasing, an Australian agri-business specialist sought a solution to apportion bandwidth and keep costs at bay.

South Australian-based, AusBulk's operational management system (OMS) was suffering poor response times and data entry back ups as well as incurring staff overtime due to the system's high demand for bandwidth, which was increasingly competing with traffic from other systems.

AusBulk owns and operates a network of 112 country silos and seven export terminals in South Australia and Victoria. The OMS is based on a wide area network (WAN) connecting 22 remote bulk-handling facilities in rural South Australia and remote Western New South Wales and Victoria. It tracks information related to the receiving and storage of bulk commodities such as grain.

Paul Bassett, technical services manager for AusBulk, said the company had 64Kbits ISDN circuits to sites, but due to the sheer volume of traffic through the OMS in conjunction with the Internet, intranet and a new financial system, the company was increasingly experiencing drop outs.

"Quality of service for the OMS is the number one objective," Bassett said. "We need this application to perform our core function. If staff cannot access the system in a timely fashion, our people in the field have to work in shifts virtually 24 hours a day during peak times, such as the annual grain harvest, just to enter operational data."

Bassett said that, when problems occurred original weigh notes were often shipped back to head office and entered there. "Validation of data is a lot easier out at the remote sites where they deal with the commodities. If we have to do it at head office, we have a very high error rate."

To stem problems, 11 of the busiest sites were upgraded to 128Kbits, incurring additional bandwidth costs of more than $100,000 a year, but Bassett said they still expected to experience bandwidth problems.

In late 2000, the company implemented 12 Packeteers PacketShaper 1500 units. Learning how to configure the devices and how to get a consistent set was an initial problem. However, all that is required now, Bassett said, was ongoing management of the boxes and keeping an eye on traffic levels.

"We decided to use PacketShaper to reserve bandwidth for the OMS and also for our new financial system. Any remaining bandwidth is now made available for e-mail or Web browsing," he said.

"It simply wasn't viable to throw bandwidth at the problem. Bandwidth is at an absolute premium in these remote areas. It becomes very expensive when you are only operating at maximum capacity during three to four months of the year."

Bassett said the solution has resulted in a $65,000 a year saving, $40,000 in bandwidth and $25,000 in overtime. He expects the system will have an effective life of about two to three years.

AusBulk is now planning to extend its OMS through the Australian Bulk Alliance, a joint venture between AusBulk and Queensland bulk handler, Grainco Australia.

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