Solutions Products - Bringing the world closer together

Frame relay used to be the technology of choice for many global players wanting to create fast and economical links with their far-flung outlets.

Today, companies like Carrefour are using virtual private network/Internet protocol systems (VPN/IP).

'Frame relay couldn't actually reach some countries where Carrefour trades,' says Laurent Barbe, senior vice-president for Equant, which provided Carrefour's new network. 'There are also cost issues. VPN is very robust and fast and we can create separate virtual networks for specific supply chain needs so the design is very flexible.'

Equant's data network, claimed as the largest in the world, covers 220 countries and Carrefour - which trades in 30 of them - has been able to hook its stores into the system as required. Wal-Mart, another Equant frame relay user, is also examining the VPN/IP option.

'Carrefour was tempted to go for cheaper local solutions, especially in countries like Greece and Spain where local costs are quite low,' continues Barbe, 'but global VPN/IP enables common IT application to be supported centrally in all stores, which is a significant benefit.'

Closer to home, Harvey Nichols is using VPN run by Netscalibur to link its growing number of branches with the Knightsbridge headquarters. It is currently being adopted by the fashion buying team to exchange pictures from the latest designer shows, using digital photography to replace traditional 35mm film. Buyers can log into the network from anywhere in the world for the price of a local call. They can then exchange images with colleagues scattered around the catwalks to create a coherent range.

The VPN system is being used for payroll management and remote IT support.

Security can be a concern with Internet systems and Harvey Nichols uses firewalls from Netscalibur to protect the system.

Furniture retailer Courts, which has used VPN/IP to create a global network for employees across the 20 countries in which it trades, has protected the system with firewalls from Check Point, integrated with systems from Nokia Internet Security.

Network backbone capacity across the group ranges from 16Mbps Token Ring to 100Mbps Ethernet and sites are connected to the main network and the Internet via leased lines at speeds of between 64Kbps and 2Mbps.

Centralised management of the network is backed by Nokia IP440 network security systems.