Case Study | Software Defined Networking for POS

Implementing an SDN Solution to Support a Dispersed Business Model Operating a Cloud Based POS

Published: 14 December 2022

Established in 2010, Autoboys is an auto parts and glass specialist with 70 outlets across South Africa, 169 fitment vehicles and 290 insurance partners. Autoboys has strategically grown its business offering as well as its market share since its inception. 

Initially, the business provided automotive glass solutions to the insurance industry. Today, the business services body repair shops, mechanical workshops, individual customers, as well as the insurance industry. Moreover, the business offering has grown to include automotive glass, parts and paint solutions. 

This rapid growth, alongside the dispersed nature of retail outlets across the country, meant the business required IT and technology solutions that could support the business’s needs. As part of Autoboys’ commitment to innovation, the business had already moved its data centres and Point of Sale (POS) to the cloud. However, it was experiencing issues with its in-store IT networking infrastructure. 

The ineffective infrastructure could not support the business uptime and connectivity requirements of each store. As such, digital assets could not seamlessly connect and remain on the VPN, which impacted the POS uptime.

Outline of car with Autoboys text

The Business Challenge

Autoboys had several business complexities contributing to the company’s POS uptime issues. These included geography, compounded by traditional infrastructure challenges and increasing demand, alongside a centralised IT function.

The original IT networking infrastructure was based on legacy technology, traditional engineering methodologies as well as practices. Traditional configuration requirements are notoriously complex. In part, this setup enables a degree of resilience in a network that lacks visibility and granular control. In the case of Autoboys, the traditional engineering methodologies, technologies, and practices were insufficient for the business demands and resulted in;

  • A hard to manage network in relation to the company’s structure. Autoboys’ structure encompasses a head office alongside brick and mortar stores as well as an online presence. These shops are located around South Africa and, as such, are dispersed across a wide topography. Furthermore, management of the overall business, including its network, occurs at the head office.
  • The legacy infrastructure management requirements did not fit the business’s structure. Traditional networks require more resources to manage in the form of boots on the ground, as deployments and troubleshooting is skills intensive as well as manual. The Autoboys’ IT function is centralised, rendering the legacy infrastructure ineffective.
  • Misaligned legacy and modern technology mix. The Autoboys branches POS system is hosted in the cloud. However, it continuously failed and was unpredictable due to the legacy networking infrastructure’s inability to support connectivity requirements.
  • Ineffective connectivity due to the infrastructure. The business struggled to manage and maintain VPN connectivity as a result of the legacy technology alongside its complexities.
  • Poor resilience, control and planning due to the traditional infrastructure alongside legacy technology. Autoboys’ lacked visibility as well as important insights around its data usage and failures. Moreover, the company could not manage the usage of the older technology.
  • Delayed outages across South Africa. Troubleshooting was difficult, time consuming, and manual. Due to the nature of the business setup, it also required travel and increased outage delays.

Tangent’s SDN as a Service Solution

The goal of the SDN as a Service solution was to design, deliver and manage an SDN that could seamlessly support HQ as well as the dispersed nature of retail stores. In order to engineer a stable connection to the POS with an uptime of 99.999%

The Tangent Connect Team implemented a Software Defined Network (SDN), a modern approach to IT networking infrastructure. Below outlines Tangent’s implementation practices, principles, processes and preferred technology stack.

The initial delivery of the SDN solution was initiated as a project and formed part of an ongoing managed service offering, SDN as a Service

Notably, the brownfields project is a crucial component of the SDN as a Service offering. It engineers the solid IT network foundation from which Autoboys’ can now effectively operate and enable business.

As a brownfield project, our approach included moving from a traditional network to an SDN. Redesigning the network was imperative to success as the principles behind traditional and SDN delivery, as well as architecture, are fundamentally different. As such, our approach to design, execution, roll-out and planning incorporates the following;
Implementing SDN network design best practices, including tagging, protocols and traffic optimisation.
Ensuring setup is delivered correctly, from the start, by utilising our technology partner’s documented deployment guidelines as part of our process.
Through consultation with Autoboys, we defined a ‘To Be Design’ of the IT networking architecture that best suits the business’s demands. This handbook outlines the complete solution for the client.
Implemented change management practices enabling seamless crossover from the traditional network to the SDN. The process followed an iterative implementation methodology, whereby each branch was shifted in its entirety according to a schedule to ensure business continuity.

Tangent purposefully selected Cisco Meraki’s full stack offering due to its comprehensive SDN functionality and capabilities. The product bundle that enabled Autoboys’ infrastructure included the Cisco Meraki MX, MR and MS lines. These products deliver security, switching, Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN) and Wireless WAN

    • By incorporating SD-WAN with multi path forwarding and dynamic reallocation, we enabled seamless failover with elastic bandwidth demand, essentially delivering scalability. SD-WAN was an essential component of the SDN, as functionally it provides the granular control of connectivity that Autoboys’ lacked on the company’s legacy network.
    • Through defining security and access control on the purpose built switches in relation to business enabling protocols as it relates to SDN, Autoboys gained an efficient framework for effective connectivity able to manage and allocate traffic accordingly.
    • Complete visibility through the native cloud based dashboard, delivered by Cisco Meraki’s SDN licencing. This native software provides ease of use with endpoint management, improved fault tolerance, software testing and fault detection built in. As a result, Autoboys now has network visibility through this purpose built management software, moreover, the business obtains the ability to do automatic updates, proactive flagging and cable testing.

Engineering an holistic SDN solution based on effective technology, methodologies, practices and principles allows businesses to leverage control at the edge and increase infrastructure resilience through design. This approach delivers networks that can adjust for competing demands during resource constraints. Companies can define network capacity according to application priority in order to reallocate bandwidth due to failures as well as shifting application demands. Furthermore, this can all be done remotely, at any time, through the cloud managed dashboard.

Tangent’s SDN as a Service solution has resulted in a host of additional benefits for Autoboys while answering many of the company’s original challenges.

The cloud based SDN dashboard means Autoboys saves time and money in various ways. It ensures business continuity by minimising failures due to proactive testing and flagging. The centralised IT function now has complete control and visibility of its SDN. Meaning, the centralised IT function is able to ensure business continuity by remotely supporting and managing its dispersed business locations.

Autoboys’ SDN as a Service Solution Enables the Business through:

  • Access to the right skills, knowledge and management expertise to engineer an efficient and more cost effective SDN through a well architected network.
  • Access to spares kept on hand within the country. These reserves are readily available to Autoboys with the added benefit of preferential rates.
  • The contracted service agreement ensures 24/7 support from an expert partner and dedicated team.
  • The native cloud managed dashboard means the centralised IT function is sufficient as they now have visibility and insights into the SDN. The health of the SDN can be monitored and controlled from anywhere, at any time. Moreover, the business can schedule automated updates.
  • The template functionality enables easy scaling and agility alongside the plug and play device capability within this SDN ecosystem. As the system utilises Zero Touch Deployment, there is no longer the need to have boots on the ground or travel.
  • Increased resilience, due to proactive monitoring as well as flagging, ensures fewer failures and increased business continuity. As a result, manual troubleshooting and travel are no longer required, alongside the avoidance of expensive as well as delayed outages.

Autoboys’ Gained Added Business Value and Innovation as a Result of Implementing SDN

SDN transforms wireless technology into digital innovation platforms. This innovation allows businesses to take advantage of so much more than connectivity. A correctly architected SDN offers a host of capabilities and usage advantages.

As a result of SDN, Autoboys is able to take advantage of various aspects of digital innovation.

Location tracking and radar sensing capture information about the stores’ locations as well as visitors. By surfacing this business data, information around shop location and clientele can be gathered as well as analysed to determine new store locations or relocations.

SDN’s ability to integrate with systems opens up a whole avenue of possibility and innovation within the digital space. As such, the business case for SDN needs to evolve into a discussion around sustainability and competitive advantage. 

Additionally, the implementation and management of an SDN needs to ensure the infrastructure becomes a base for innovation and critical integrations.

Taking an innovative mindset to business means selecting the right partner is imperative. As SDN affects more than just connectivity, it affects crucial business systems as firms mature, evolve and continue to compete in the digital economy.

Generic Analytics Reference Chart
Generic Analytics Reference Chart

Tangent’s SDN as a Service Solution Outcomes

As a result of the brownfields project initiated for Autoboys, alongside Tangent’s continued SDN as a Service contract, the retailer has overcome its initial challenges and gained value adds. The results include the following;

The ability to start managing the ISP services, ensuring more uptime in relation to service availability from the POS system. The POS up time increased from 50% to 99.999%.

The dashboard enables business continuity by giving the organisation the ability to immediately identify and solve service issues without manual troubleshooting interventions.

    • This resulted in less travel time and fewer outages due to network infrastructure issues.
    • It also ensured time was saved as there was no longer the need for manual troubleshooting.
    • Remote troubleshooting also ensures no more delayed outages due to there being a centralised IT function.
    • The automations, proactive flagging and fault finding means the team now has more time to focus on productive tasks while efficiently managing the network remotely.
    • This resulted in overall cost and time savings.

The POS uptime ensures more sales are being processed while increasing brand affinity due to a better customer experience at the POS.

Tangent’s SDN as a Service Solution resulted in 99.999% uptime for Autoboys, up from an estimated 50% on the legacy technology infrastructure.

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