Over the last decade, environmental consulting firm Dudek has more than doubled its number of employees and number of remote offices. The growth has been great for the business, but created a challenge for IT Director Abe Esguerra. The IT infrastructure he inherited when he joined the company in 2002 was not evolving to meet employees’ demands for a more efficient file management and sharing system. Information stores were spread out among all the offices and, more recently, in cloud-based applications. However, with no wide-area network (WAN), inter-office collaboration consisted of sharing large files via FTP, MAPI and mailing physical CDs. So Esguerra implemented a multiprotocol layer switching (MPLS) network to centralize applications and data, and leveraged WAN optimization technologies to increase the speed of data transfers between offices. His approach can serve as a model for any IT department tasked with adapting the IT environment to support its organization’s growth and changing business needs.

Headquartered in Encinitas, Calif., Dudek assists its private and public clients on a wide range of projects that improve California’s communities, infrastructure, and natural environment, from planning, design, and permitting through construction.

When Esguerra joined the company in 2002, there were just five offices and 120 employees. Today, Dudek employs more than 300 planners, scientists, civil engineers, contractors, and support staff located in 11 sites across the state.

As the company opened new offices and hired more employees, the lack of a centralized file-sharing system became cumbersome, and more significantly, led to serious problems with version control. The first step Esguerra took to remedy the situation was to set up the MPLS network.

MPLS is a protocol for speeding up and shaping network traffic flows. MPLS allows most packets to be forwarded at Layer 2 (the switching level) rather than having to be passed up to Layer 3 (the routing level). Each packet gets labeled on entry into the service provider’s network by the ingress router. All the subsequent routing switches perform packet forwarding based only on those labels. The egress router then removes the label(s) and forwards the original IP packet toward its final destination using the label to send it along a specific pre-determined path. The paths, called label-switched paths (LSPs), enable service providers to decide in advance the best way for certain types of traffic to move.[1]

The issue of scale was, and will always be, a factor in all of Esguerra’s decisions as the company continues to grow and employees need to access information and applications on a variety of devices in the office or on the road. Like so many businesses, Dudek has moved away from an on-site only IT environment to a hybrid model that incorporates on-premises, cloud, and SaaS-based applications. However, setting up the MPLS alone did not adequately address the need to improve network performance.

“Due to distances between offices, bandwidth limitations, and the large size of the firm’s project files, employees experienced delays accessing business critical-applications, SQL databases and file-shares,” said Esguerra. “Additionally, we were not able to provide our clients with on-site, real-time displays of relevant project files. So, I started looking for ways to speed up the movement of information from various points. We needed to improve application performance network-wide and allow for faster transfers of large files in order to enable effective collaboration between the various offices.”

Esguerra began researching WAN optimization technology and implemented the Riverbed SteelHead solution. The current deployment is comprised of SteelHead 9.0 running in the firm’s data centers in Encinitas and Irvine, and 13 SteelHead virtual appliances running on VMware ESX on HP ProLiant servers in each branch office. Additionally, Esguerra installed SteelFusion Edge appliance in one of the branch offices. Dudek also uses approximately 50 licenses of SteelHead Mobile to ensure Dudek’s clients can see real-time project files.

“We’ve realized an 80% reduction in data traffic across the WAN, and we’re keeping bandwidth increases to a minimum for a significant cost saving,” said Esguerra. “The system has paid for itself two-fold in less than a year.”

The new IT system was put to the test when Dudek recently acquired a company, and Esguerra was tasked with making its data stores, which included large maps and aerial imagery, available to all employees across all remote offices.

“We were concerned that information would not be readily accessible if it remained stored locally in the acquired company’s data center,” added Esguerra. “Much of it is reference information our employees may need to access right away, particularly when they’re meeting with clients, and they can’t afford any delays. We’re able to provide immediate availability, and also better protect the information via the central backup system.”

Today, Dudek’s IT network is capable of meeting the information management needs of its employees, and is ready to scale as the firm continues to grow its existing services; adds new practice areas; and expands geographically.

“The consolidation and availability of data from virtually anywhere enables our practice builders to more efficiently pursue new opportunities and resources,” said Esguerra. “It’s an excellent example of how any organization’s IT department can map its decisions to implement new technologies and policies directly to the company’s ability to meet its broader short- and long-term business goals.”

[1] Margaret Rouse, “Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS),” SearchEnterpriseWAN, August 2014. http://searchenterprisewan.techtarget.com/definition/Multiprotocol-Label-Switching