I’ve helped a number of people, including myself, with the installation of networking and WiFi in homes. When I consulted with an organization with a large building and many users, I ran into Aruba. About five years ago I started attending HPE conferences and getting deeper dives into robust networking. Perhaps the best story was meeting the IT head of the European PGA tour who talked about the WiFi requirements for hosting the Ryder Cup.

Aruba is one of my go-to sources for networking technology and application news these days. Today, this news came about a rugged network solution that includes IoT and robots and other things near and dear to my heart. Use this for an example of what you can accomplish with this equipment whether in distribution or other industrial or manufacturing settings.

Aruba announced that Distribution Management, a leading fulfillment and supplies network, is standardizing on Aruba wireless, switching, and security solutions across all of its locations to enable digital transformation initiatives to support the company’s rapid growth and increasing customer demand. 

With headquarters in St. Charles, Missouri, and five distribution centers across the U.S., Distribution Management operates a supplies and order fulfillment network that can reach 99 percent of the country within one-to-two days. The company also operates a Foreign Trade Zone that services international needs, and offers managed services for printer fleets, dispatching technicians for troubleshooting and repair, as well as supplying printer repair parts.

As Distribution Management has grown and seen increased demand from customers, modernizing and streamlining operations, and improving efficiencies and employee productivity, have become key objectives. According to Tom Huck, Distribution Management’s Director of Infrastructure Technologies, the company realized it needed to upgrade its network infrastructure to achieve these objectives.

“We knew that the underlying network foundation would be critical to advancing all of the modernization and expansion efforts we had in mind,” Huck said. “It was pretty clear our existing network couldn’t accommodate our growing needs.”

As the company planned for expansion into larger warehouse spaces, with an increasing number of IoT devices on the network, and new distribution models that would include replacing traditional conveyor equipment with robots, it realized their legacy Cisco network had to be replaced. After evaluating new solutions from both Cisco and Aruba, Distribution Management chose to standardize on Aruba across all of its sites.

Working with partners Insight and InterVision, Distribution Management began installing Aruba access points, mobility controllers, and access switches, as well as ClearPass, so the organization can authenticate every wired and wireless device that accesses the network and begin implementing consistent role-based policies. 

According to Jim Adelmann, network administrator for Distribution Management, the new Aruba network is accelerating the organization’s warehouse digital transformation, allowing the IT team to connect a variety of crucial devices including robots to the network for automated inventory management. The robots use the wireless network to check in and “call home” for real-time order details that indicate where to go within the warehouse and how to process orders.

Other devices and applications benefiting from the Aruba network include Zebra barcode printers and wrist-mounted TC52 devices, which warehouse employees use to scan, pick and pack inventory, QubeVu hardware which is essential in viewing and analyzing the dimensions of packages coming through their warehouse so they can be processed properly, and RingCentral softphones for videoconferencing and employee laptops and mobile devices.

From an IT perspective, Adelmann said the Aruba network is providing the kind of reliability, redundancy and always-on connectivity that Distribution Management needed to move forward with their expansion and modernization efforts confidently.

“Had we stuck with Cisco, we would have spent twice the amount of time getting the network up and running. With Aruba, network management is so easy – we had everything rolling within a week,” Adelmann said.

Adelmann also noted that the modularity of the Aruba solutions allowed the IT team to stage everything ahead of time and that the uptime has been “through the roof,” freeing up the IT team to focus on more strategic initiatives. Added Huck, “Lost productivity translates into lost revenue. That’s why having a solid network foundation was so vital to supporting our digital initiatives and meeting our growth and expansion needs.”

To date, Distribution Management has installed the Aruba infrastructure in three of its five distribution centers and plans to continue its roll-out to its additional two centers in the near future. In 2021, the company also plans to continue its move to role-based access control with ClearPass, and will evaluate Aruba Central for management, as well as Aruba User Experience Insight sensors to provide additional troubleshooting and diagnostic capabilities. 

Said Huck, “We now feel confident that as our business grows and evolves, our network can grow with it, supporting whatever initiatives we undertake.”

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