Magazine Article | February 1, 2003

Ease WLAN Administration

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Lenox China's WLAN (wireless LAN) upgrade connects its new warehouse to existing operations and allows enterprise-wide configuration from a single console.

Integrated Solutions, February 2003

Elegant creamy porcelain dishware from Lenox China has graced dining tables for more than a century. In addition to creating place settings for numerous presidents, Lenox also has a broad inventory of giftware, collectibles, and jewelry, which is sold directly to consumers as well as through retail outlets. With a growing product line and customer base, Lenox was outgrowing its existing warehouse in Langhorne, PA. A second warehouse was built in early 2002 to house less frequently accessed items, and the company wanted to incorporate that facility into the existing WLAN (wireless LAN) infrastructure and extend WMS (warehouse management system) and material handling applications to the new building.

As Barry King, data communications analyst at Lenox, and Mark Smith, senior technical specialist at Lenox, began planning the project, it became clear that a suitable solution would require more than just some new WLAN access points. "At the time we were using Spectrum One, an older wireless handheld scanner from Symbol Technologies," says King. "We wanted to purchase additional wireless handheld scanners, but it didn't make sense to buy additional scanners and then licenses for the existing models. It would have been nearly impossible to integrate everything."

Integration challenges, scalability limitations, and the challenges of maintaining legacy systems led Lenox to explore a more comprehensive upgrade. "We began to have trouble servicing the existing system," says Smith. "When it went down, sometimes it stayed down for half a day before we could get it back up."

Integration Expertise Links Multivendor Environment
Lenox's existing WLAN was based on Cisco hardware, and the company wanted to stay with what it saw as a proven solution. As a result, Lenox installed 15 Cisco AP 350 access points. Past experience was also the deciding factor in replacing the Spectrum One scanners with 55 of Symbol's 6846 and 6146 models. An existing 5250 terminal was replaced with IP (Internet protocol) connectivity to increase data transfer speeds and allow hardware devices such as scanners to be shared between the buildings.

Lenox also enhanced the capabilities of its scanners with Wavelink Avalanche 4-in-1 Telnet Client from Wavelink Corp., a device configuration solution that supports software synchronization. Avalanche allows the handheld scanners to access the WMS application and a material handling software application, despite the fact that each runs on a separate protocol. To access the PkMS WMS software from Manhattan Associates, Inc., which is on an AS/400, Avalanche emulates a 5250 terminal. Using VT-100 emulation, Avalanche allows the scanners to link to a material handling solution residing on Sun servers. Previous versions of the Symbol scanners required users to reboot in order to switch applications, but 6846 and 6146 models can move between applications with the flick of a switch.

Based on a referral from one of its vendors, Lenox engaged the services of Tolt Technologies (Gig Harbor, WA), a systems integrator specializing in wireless supply chain solutions. "One of the things we liked about them was their flexibility," comments King. "Some of the other providers we spoke to tried to pressure us to use a single product. Tolt was willing to work with the products we had already chosen." Tolt employees conducted a site survey and installed the wireless access points. The integrator also configured the scanners prior to delivery and provided the small amount of end user training that was necessary to operate them. "Tolt had people on-site for the first day or two to make sure everything went smoothly," says King. "They continue to act as our first line of support."

King and Smith estimate that the entire project cost between $150,000 and $200,000. "Some of that would have been necessary without the upgrade in order to accommodate the new building," notes Smith. "That number also includes the material handling application which was added about a month after the initial installation." Lenox began the process of selecting products and providers in February or March 2002, in preparation for when the budgeted dollars were released in May. The physical installation took place in July and required about a week at each site. In August, the new material handling application was integrated into the system.

Telnet Client Slashes Administration Time
One aspect the system administrators most appreciate is the ability to reconfigure from the console rather than each individual scanner. "When I need to make an upgrade or a change, I just have to do it once through the Avalanche console," says King. "The scanners pick up the new rules when they reboot." Because some of the scanners are associated with locations instead of individual workers, the total number of users is close to 80. For example, zones are used in the material handling process, and two or three workers in a specific zone often use scanners in place of terminals. Without a single individual responsible for the use of a specified scanner, the task of upgrading them manually could prove daunting. King and Smith estimate that changing all 55 scanners would take at least a week if it weren't for the Avalanche client.

By using IP connectivity, Lenox can easily respond to shifts in workload. For instance, if there is a sudden upsurge in orders at one building, workers can simply take the scanners to the other warehouse, where they will automatically pick up the IP address of that building.

Future upgrades could make it even easier to oversee access point configuration and WLAN security at Lenox. The company is evaluating Wavelink's Mobile Manager, a WLAN management solution that allows for centralized administration of access points as well as automating configuration of access points that are added in the future. Mobile Manager also offers security features such as rotating WEP (wired equivalency protocol) keys, access control, and security policy maintenance. In addition, Lenox may add another legacy material handling system as the third session on the Avalanche client.