Since its initial conception nearly 100 years ago in 1921, Concentric AB has gone through several instances of acquisitions and independencies. The latest demerger, from Haldex AB in 2011, provided Concentric’s Business Excellence Manager Daniel Hodson and his IT team with the opportunity to redesign their global network infrastructure.
Concentric is a global expert in fluid engineering and one of the world’s leading pump manufacturers with end-markets in trucks, industrial applications, construction equipment, and agricultural machinery. The global footprint of the company includes main operations out of the UK, as well as a manufacturing presence in Sweden, Germany, the UK, the USA, Argentina, India and China, backed by central support and development functions. However, while the company is globally distributed, the IT team is relatively small with typically a single IT professional per site.
When Concentric became an independently listed company in 2011, Hodson and his team took the opportunity to look into alternative network infrastructure options, “It made us think of whether we should try something fresh that could be the future for the business.” Before breaking from Haldex, each of the sites utilized either an expensive EVPN or a cheap bridge device to connect the locations via a global MPLS solution. Aside from the major challenge of not having visibility into each location, the team had to rely on the solution provider or expertise of the one CCNA certified engineer for any major changes. Hodson comments, “If it came to anything overly technical, the rest of the IT team would have no chance of troubleshooting.”
One of Hodson’s colleagues working out of Sweden had previous exposure to the Cisco Meraki solution and recommended it as a possibility. The team started with a small proof of concept using Meraki MX64 security appliances to connect the Birmingham, a newly acquired Argentina factory, and Sweden sites together using the automatic site-to-site VPN capabilities built into the devices. “We had a 3-spoke network then and we were able to test the different features. We were impressed that the Auto VPN worked without really having to do anything,” explains Hodson.
As a publicly listed company, there were many important factors that were crucial to Hodson in considering the Meraki solution, including security and reliability. The proof of concept was an important step in alleviating these concerns for the business proposition, “It wasn’t just a paper we were creating, it was presenting the solution as the future network for Concentric,” states Hodson. In addition to the significant increases in speed and reliability, the Meraki devices provide comprehensive security and bleeding-edge protection from the latest vulnerabilities.
In the course of three months, Hodson’s team installed wireless and security devices globally. Meraki MR32 access points replaced legacy APs and were deployed at locations that previously lacked wireless. Meraki MX100 security appliances were installed at larger facilities, while MX64s were set up at smaller locations. Once the onsite installation was completed, the IT team then configured them remotely, “The Meraki solution is so user friendly. It’s the difference between knowing about the network and having to be CCNA certified,” says Hodson.
Using the visibility in dashboard, we were able to troubleshoot specific machines that we previously didn’t realise were using a lot of bandwidth.Daniel Hodson, Business Excellence Manager
All types of devices are using the Meraki network, from manufacturing machinery to laptops, servers, and phones, and the team has deep visibility into every detail. “We couldn’t drill down to a client before to see what they were doing or what was generating the most traffic. That visibility didn’t exist before.” says Hodson. On the wireless side, the IT team has configured SSIDs with Active Directory for company devices and a guest network for personal devices. For each SSID, they can enable further settings, including custom splash pages for guests, Layer 7 firewall rules to block specific applications, and SSID bandwidth limits.
As a Unified Thread Management (UTM) device, the Meraki security appliance provides a multitude of security and connectivity features built in, at no additional cost. Concentric benefits from Layer 3 & 7 firewall rules, Intrusion Detection and Prevention powered by Sourcefire, URL filtering, malware detection, content filtering, and more. All of which are configurable in a matter of mouse clicks in the dashboard. Hodson has also implemented automatic failover for their secondary connection. “We never had that on other products. The majority of our sites run two connections for automatic failover now. We don’t have to worry or mess about in configuring anything if there is a failure,” describes Hodson.
Automatic site-to-site VPN connectivity between all of the global locations is key to sharing Concentric’s business critical resources. The MX devices automatically configure, monitor, and maintain the VPN connections, so Hodson’s team doesn’t have to, even in dynamic IP environments. “Users are definitely noticing a difference. The site-to-site transferring of data is significantly faster. Instead of the bottleneck being the network gateway, now it’s simply the total amount of bandwidth at each site,” remarks Hodson. Even more, where Concentric used to be charged on a per-user level for Client VPN, it’s now included in the Meraki solution at no additional cost, with much improved performance, providing employees even more ways to stay connected reliably.
Overall, the entire Meraki solution provides the Concentric IT team with unified, centralised visibility and control over the entire Meraki deployment. From one web-based dashboard or the Meraki App, the team is able to remotely view and have control over the users, devices, and applications on the network. Hodson shares an example, “Using the visibility in dashboard, we were able to troubleshoot specific machines that we previously didn’t realise were using a lot of bandwidth.”
In another example where Concentric’s ISP suffered an outage, the team was able to redirect their connection via an indirect VPN connection to their US location, restoring connectivity to key financial software at a key time of the year. “The entire event lasted just an hour with Meraki. On our old MPLS solution, not only would it have taken 2-3 hours just to raise a support ticket and receive acknowledgment, but I have no doubt we would have ultimately been informed that due to the UK-wide issue, there was nothing [the ISP] could do to assist and we would have suffered far more than we did.”
The IT team also has automatic alerts enabled in the dashboard to automatically notify them in certain events, like if an AP loses connectivity or an MX device switches to its secondary line. “We know before people start shouting. Previously, we would get a complaint and have to go through the rigamarole and troubleshoot. Now, we just know and can fix it before it becomes an issue,” Hodson explains. With its innovative and future-proof technology, the Meraki solution is facilitating Concentric’s main goal of designing, developing, and manufacturing high quality, customer focused solutions for hydraulic and engine applications, delivering sustainability through technology and innovation.