Hard as it may be to believe, it's really possible for a home builder to mesh perfectly with a telecom service provider.
Such is the case with Atlanta-based John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods and BellSouth, in which the builder hired the local Baby Bell to unify its network for 70 locations in its six regions: Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Raleigh, N.C.
According to David Cochran, John Wieland Homes' chief information officer, the builder had a different networking solution for every location. Some had dial-up lines, others had cable modems, and still others had integrated services digital network (ISDN), an early form of high-speed access.
“As we began to mature in our use of back-office systems, we started relying more on employees in the field to use those systems,” explains Cochran, who says that John Wieland Homes uses FAST back-office software for construction management and Computers for Tracts for its sales automation software.
“Our first goal was to improve communications, to improve the manageability and the consistency of the network,” he says, adding that the home builder wanted to have one vendor manage the network if possible.
Cochran says BellSouth now meets 93 percent of the company's needs. With a BellSouth-managed virtual private network (VPN), John Wieland Homes can now run all its data and Internet access traffic over a single network and choose the best access method based on the needs of the location.
For example, in its sales and construction offices that typically house two to three employees, the home builder uses DSL lines. In branch offices that have 10 to 50 people, John Wieland Homes uses T1 lines. And at the data center at the Atlanta corporate office, it uses high-speed Ethernet over fiber.
“We can get any type of connectivity and scale it based on our needs,” Cochran says. “The other thing that's great is that the price is fixed; with other vendors the costs would vary by mileage,” he adds.
Another advantage of the VPN is that it uses a new technology called multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), which sends packets across the network faster and more efficiently. In the past, networks worked on what was known as the “hub-and-spoke” method, in which packets would go into a central location and get fed back into the network. Under MPLS, all locations have direct access to each other.
“The other great thing is that accessing the Internet through BellSouth is a direct connection,” says Chuck King, John Wieland Homes' network systems manager. “That means Web browsing doesn't eat up the bandwidth on the corporate site,” he explains.
More efficient and faster Web access is great, but the unified network will also help the builder improve its workflow. Cochran says that in the past, employees could not make use of the contract writing application over a dial-up line. It was also difficult to make the data consistently available to the staff across the network.
“Now, it's a level playing field for everyone,” says Cochran, who adds that moving forward, John Wieland Homes can start thinking about rolling out mobile applications, video conferencing, and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).
MANAGED NETWORK BellSouth unified networking operations at 70 John Wieland locations in six regions throughout the Southeast.