Applied Solution: A New Client Moves in at Atlantic Relocation Systems

Agency for Atlas Van Lines saves an estimated quarter-million dollars by deploying thin-client server technology

"We were in a Y2K crisis scenario," says Julie Johnson, director of MIS, Atlantic Relocation Systems (ARS). "We had an AS/400 without any applications that were Y2K compliant. We could have upgraded our AS/400, but that wouldn't have solved our software problems, so we decided to go in a totally different direction."

Headquartered in Atlanta, with 10 branch offices and over 800 system users located across the country, Atlantic Relocation Systems serves as an agent for Atlas Van Lines and is ranked as America's largest independent van line agency.

Mark Milligan, sales consultant, Computer Generation Inc. (Dallas, Texas; CGI), says, "I found out about ARS about a year ago. At that time they were considering frame relay and MCI. They'd already decided that they wanted to use the Solomon IV Windows-based package and Move Magic, a transportation management solution from Consensus Software (Reston, Va.), to keep track of their trucks."

Johnson says she chose these programs because, "The client/server world has more appeal to us for the future and Atlas Van Lines had also made the decision to use these programs." On the hardware side, she explains, "We have 11 locations tied to our AS/400 with 9.6 data lines. Our goal is to convert our existing AS/400 network to a client/server WAN using frame relay circuits while keeping as much of our existing equipment as possible."

"When we first contacted ARS they thought they'd have to build either Novell or NT servers at all their branches with all the applications running on each server," says Milligan. "We recommended a thin-client solution using MetaFrame running on a Compaq Proliant server at their headquarters, along with the AS/400 that contains the legacy data. The AS/400 is accessed through the Attachmate emulation package via MetaFrame. They liked this more centralized approach."

Johnson agrees. "Initially we intended to deploy servers to each site, but the distributed network approach was really not cost effective for us. However, when we realized that a new client/server technology could reduce our hardware investments and the cost of our frame relay links, this was a turning point for us.

"We retained control over all applications by connecting everyone through our headquarters in Atlanta," says Johnson. "We minimized our bandwidth requirements with frame relay. The Wyse terminals have been used in this environment very successfully. They were a good purchase value for our company. And we feel we've saved nearly 30 percent with this system."

"For this particular customer the [thin-client] network architecture is perfect, since they only have an MIS staff of two for over 800 people across the country. The 50 Winterm 2715s, and 25 to 30 Winterm 3715s from Wyse running ICA protocol on a TCP/IP network all have access to the AS/400. To the end user, everything looks and feels like a Windows 95 desktop," explains Milligan.

In addition, CGI added four servers at ARS corporate and two of those servers are load balanced Metaframe servers. The other two are NT-cluster servers. Additionally two of the larger branches have their own Compaq Proliant servers. ARS was able to continue to use the data on their leveraged AS/400, and all branches now run off these MetaFrame-driven servers. "The two Compaq Proliant servers run an NT-based cluster, while the applications are running off the corporate servers," says Milligan. "By not having to build server-based nets in the branches, ARS saved about $30,000 per branch, for a total savings of nearly a quarter million dollars."

The response to the new system has been tremendously positive, says Johnson. "The Wyse terminals are used by all the employees from the receptionists to the general manager. We still have some PCs with client software, but they've become a burden to us and their users see them as too time consuming." ARS plans to replace all of them.

"Everything will run on the network. It runs faster, and there are advantages on licensing because we can control all of that through Atlanta. It's also less expensive to buy in volume at the server level," notes Johnson. "To put it on a global scale, we saved more in terms of personnel than in hours. With a distributed network, the staff requirements to administer it would have cost the equivalent of hiring seven new MIS employees. That's not just software, that includes overall administration, help-desk support, and so forth."

Other benefits Johnson cites are the ability to diagnose and solve problems across the network, the speed of the conversion process and the tools to enhance end users' productivity. "We didn't expect to see results until the first quarter of next year," she says. "We're already seeing reductions in telephone and fax expenses and customer service has improved more than 15 percent. On top of all that, my bosses are marveling that we are able to bring this project in very close to our expected costs."

As far as Johnson is concerned, "Thin client gives us a competitive edge in an industry where the last major revolution was moving from the horse-drawn wagon to the gasoline-powered engine."