Want to Save $1 Million Annually from Your Network Costs? It’s Time to Get Consistent

CISCO

A global company needs to show its customers a single face. Customers don’t care that your European office does things differently than your North American office. At Wallenius Wilhelmsen, a truly global company with customers on every continent, our focus is to provide a consistent experience globally and across all our product lines. To do this, we need to be consistent behind the scenes as well.


Wallenius Wilhelmsen is one of the world’s largest companies in roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) shipping and vehicle logistics. We operate around 130 vessels servicing 15 trade routes to six continents, together with a global inland distribution network, 120 processing centers, and 11 marine terminals. We’re headquartered in Oslo, Norway, but our 9,500 employees are spread throughout 29 countries. 


Our purpose is to build sustainable supply chains, imagining new, more sustainable solutions for the changing world of mobility and transport on land and sea. Our goal is a zero-emission full-lifecycle supply chain for vehicles. We know that by working in partnership with customers and business partners, we can get there.


Since our clients tend to use multiple Wallenius Wilhelmsen services, we must collaborate across organizational lines. The customer experience should be seamless across ocean and land.

The Search for a Modern, Efficient, Sustainable Network

Wallenius Wilhelmsen was formed from the merger of two shipping companies that date back to 1934 and 1861. We have a lot of tradition to work from, but we want to be modern in our approach to logistics to add value for our customers as they face increasing challenges in the marketplace. 


Three years ago, we embarked on a project called WAN2020, which was our vision for the next generation of our network to support connectivity to our data centers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. 


From a networking perspective, we aimed to unify our backend across various users in our 29 countries. Our network end users vary from financial and administrative users on laptops and desktops, to our vehicle processing centers and plants using handheld scanners to process thousands of vehicles per day. Our variety of users presents challenges to standardizing a network.


We were looking to move away from the traditional MPLS global network based on primary and backup circuits. As we started to think about moving from private to public cloud, we wanted to reduce both our complexity as well as our outlay on circuits.


Our network costs were substantial: both in hardware and in managing a complex network environment because different regions had different ways of operating. Some regions had more cost-effective bandwidth than others. Lack of cohesion was a problem, because we never knew if a complaint about slowness was application-related or truly a network issue. Root causes were sometimes difficult to identify and we were frustrated with our tools. This led us to look for newer all-in-one solutions such as Meraki.


Having everything in one dashboard, one single source of truth, was important to us because of the global nature of our company. I’m located in New Jersey and report to our VP of Infrastructure Services based in Oslo, Norway. When we review network related items, we are now both looking at the same information with the same visibility across our network.

A consistent network = one source of truth.


Among the WAN products we considered, there were several reasons why we chose Cisco’s Meraki SD-WAN solution. We had been with Cisco for many years and our old legacy switches and access points had served us well, but they were reaching end of life just as we started to look at our WAN infrastructure. 


We liked how the Meraki dashboard presented a simplified view, but we could also get more specific with its cloud-based network management. Meraki was an ideal fit on both LAN and WAN.

Lessons from Proving Better Speed and Cost Efficiency

In 2018, we ran a proof of concept that eventually developed to deployment across 25 sites. In our private cloud data centers, we had some non-Meraki equipment that we had to interface with, so we began by testing the MX security appliances on-site with our existing hardware. 


Beyond the Meraki technologies, we wanted to prove out the stability of internet circuits versus MPLS. We had some concerns over quality of service, but were convinced we could mitigate that while doubling and tripling our bandwidth on internet circuits and reducing our costs. To test, we lit up 25 sites across the U.S., Europe, and Asia. The results gave us the confidence to say we could roll out to the remaining sites.


When it came time to roll out to another 100 sites by the end of this year, we prioritized the WAN components because some of our sites are very large. This is where we’d see immediate cost savings and the benefits of increased bandwidth. 


The user experience is far better on a 50 Mb Internet circuit versus a 4 Mb MPLS, so we also prioritized sites that experienced bandwidth issues. We used those frameworks to set out a roadmap for which sites to address first. Now, we are back-filling, addressing the switches and access points at some of our larger sites. We will have over 125 sites, across 25 countries and 1,200 Meraki network devices, completed in 2019.

The takeaway from rolling out a solution to 125 sites globally? Communication is vital. Make sure all your internal IT staff understands the challenges upfront.


From our proof of concept and initial rollout, I learned that communication is vital. This is not a solution that just sits in a lab somewhere. To make the switch, you need to engage your internal IT staff to make sure everyone understands all the challenges upfront. It means thinking about connectivity in a new way. 


The global nature of the company meant it wasn’t just as simple as putting it in the calendar and saying we were going to do it. We worked with our global resources trying to work around downtimes in different timezones. This meant quite a few weekends, late nights, and early mornings. The results we’ve seen are because of the efforts of our global team. One of our key technical contributors to the project was Jan Kristian Osland from Sicra Consulting based in Oslo, Norway.

  

We also worked with Visolit, a Cisco partner based in Norway to support the procurement and distribution of the Meraki equipment to our global sites. 

Everything We Wanted, Plus Greater Independence

With our traditional network equipment, we didn’t have full visibility of our network traffic configurations. Now, one dashboard allows us to see every single network component. Instead of taking hours to troubleshoot an issue, it takes minutes. This is because the dashboard shows us, down to the client level, the bandwidth consumption. That dashboard has become our single source of truth not only for our IT staff but any IT suppliers for our network support globally.


As part of our project, we also needed to clean up quite a few VPN tunnels and separate networks that had supported various initiatives throughout the years. Standardizing those solutions also reduced the complexity of the network. 


In addition to reducing complexity, another main objective was reducing costs. On that front, our global rollout has been a success as we’ve been able to save over $1 million per year with our switch to Meraki. 


Once we switched to Meraki, the dashboard made network management much easier. We own the Meraki infrastructure, licenses, and contracts, so we now have greater flexibility in our support models. Our teams based in the U.S., Europe, and Asia now have a standardized network platform to utilize for any growth potential.


We are now able to see the full picture of our network on demand. We can view topologies, security, and network utilization. Meraki permits us to manage our network more proactively and greatly reduces our reactive related network issues.


We also have a solid platform to build on with Meraki in our data centers and branch offices to allow us to transition with planned moves toward public cloud and SaaS platforms.


Last year, one of our acquisitions included a company in the U.S. that added 12 additional sites to our network. Having standardized with Meraki, we were able to easily incorporate those sites into our project rollout.


Additionally, we are reviewing Meraki cameras as a possible way to standardize our security systems as we currently have different solutions to support the same function.


The Meraki solution helps our IT team become enablers and puts the business in a better strategic position for digitalization. 

Reinvesting in the Future of Shipping and a Sustainable Future

We have been able to reduce our network cost upwards of $1 million annually. Wallenius Wilhelmsen is able to use those savings to invest further into research and development in the digitalization of other components of our business. And with our greater efficiency in network administration and overall data center operations, our IT team has more time to accelerate those initiatives. 


People don’t usually think about how cars arrive from point A to point B, but there are many complex operations that can take advantage of technology that we are looking to invest in to further our digital strategy. 


We now have a digital acceleration group focused on partnerships to take advantage of solutions in the marketplace that can be used. One example has been investments into sensors on our ships which gather data to allow for more efficient operations of our vessels.  


More than ever, Wallenius Wilhelmsen is consistent and provides our customers with a uniform experience. Providing consistency to our network helps drive consistency in our other areas. While the future of logistics is full of uncertainty, we’re better positioned to provide sustainable logistics for a world in motion.