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Interview with Mr. Steve Salo from Viking Networks

We consulted Mr. Steve Salo about the network setup normally required by a license-based (vs. web-based/cloud) central dispatch program. Steve Salo is the President of Viking Networks. He has over 35 years experience as an IT professional. Based out of Columbus, Indiana, Viking Networks has extensive experience in the concrete industry and especially with central dispatch systems. Steve Salo helps set up and maintain over 40 dispatch systems and networks for concrete producers.

The following Q & A session is an in-depth discussion about the network requirements of a license-based central dispatch.

1. T1 Lines and Citrix

SYSDYNE: Why are T1 lines often required by license-based (not web-based) central dispatch?

Steve Salo: The following is the most popular set up for a central dispatch operation.

dispatch-diagram


First of all, given the nature of concrete business, a central dispatch operation requires timely communication and high reliability. Concrete Companies cannot afford to lose a network connection and render their dispatch unusable, even if it’s only temporary. A high-speed constant network connection will be required. A network that stays connected 80% to 90% or even 95% of the time is simply not good enough.

Second, the refresh rate of dispatch system screens is significantly higher and more demanding than other back office software applications. The network demand required for streaming data is always greater than the network demand to access static data. This streaming affects large data transfers through the network. With or without GPS, and the network could break down. Compound this by the number of remote dispatch terminals in operation with GPS truck tracking. In other words, the draw on network resources will be highest at the times when the dispatchers are busiest; therefore, the likelihood of disconnection will be greater when the dispatch is needed most.
In the concrete industry, people often use Citrix to ensure a timely communication between the server and remote dispatch terminals.

T1 lines or the even more expensive Fiber Optics are a must for running Citrix or Terminal Services (Collectively “Citrix”). Citrix has very low tolerance towards the latency of data transfer. The normal latency that Citrix will allow is 30-50ms. Latencies beyond 100ms will slow the network’s performance. If the latency goes beyond 200-300ms then Citrix will disconnect. Citrix is unable to reconnect itself once the connection has dropped. In order to reconnect, someone (usually IT staff) will need to log on the administrator account for the server and close the existing Citrix session(s). After the session is closed the end user will have to re-login to Citrix and the dispatch software. This process will take roughly 5-10 minutes or longer depending on the accessibility of the IT personnel to the server.

Only T1 or fiber optic networks are reliable enough to meet the tight latency requirements of Citrix. Though standard Broadband Internet connection methods such as DSL, Cable or WiFi can be very high-speed, their speed will fluctuate due to the volume of data traffic on the ISP. Therefore the latency of standard broadband cannot be guaranteed. Although standard broadband may be able to maintain the speed for a period of time it is likely for the latency to exceed 200ms about 10% to 20% of the time. Therefore, DSL, cable, and WiFi (3G or 4G) are unable to meet the latency requirements of Citrix server and companies that attempt to utilize these technologies with traditional dispatch will experience regular downtime and waste man-hours re-establishing the connections.

SYSDYNE: Do I have to use Citrix to run a license-based central dispatch?

Steve Salo: Most likely. Citrix is the only way to provide timely communication between central dispatch office and the batch plant. With Citrix, everything actually runs on the dispatching server (“Server”). The dispatch PC at the plant side (“Client”) doesn’t really run the dispatch software. This is termed a Thin Client. Utilizing a Thin Client will optimize communication between Server and Client. Without Citrix, the Client will also need to install and run the dispatch program. This is considered a Fat Client. The communication between Server and Client will be too slow to support the operation due to the large amount of data transferred by the Fat Client.

There is an exception. Citrix is not necessary if plants don’t need to access any other dispatch functions besides receiving tickets. In that case all that would be needed is a static IP or VPN network set up. However, for a variety of reasons such as the batch operators monitoring the dispatch’s truck tracking screen or any other reason that necessitates dispatch data to be available live at the plant, most of ready mix operations need dispatch PCs at their plants in addition to the main central dispatch office.

The only other exception would be a Linux-based central dispatch program.

SYSDYNE: Why would a cloud central dispatch, such as SYSDYNE’s ConcreteGo.com, not need Citrix?

Steve Salo: Web-based central dispatch will use the latest internet technology. When you use ConceteGo.com as your dispatch system it will be no different than surfing regular web sites. Everything will already be running in the browser as a thin client. The random 200-300ms (or even longer) delays won’t affect the browser’s connection. Citrix is unnecessary when using a web browser to run dispatch.

SYSDYNE: What’s involved in maintaining a network with T1 lines and Citrix?

Steve Salo: 1. Set up and maintenance of a T1 (or fiber optic) and Citrix network is extremely complicated and requires skilled network professionals. It is not something a computer shop on the block can handle. You will need IT professionals that are experienced with setting up dispatch systems for concrete companies for the initial setup and the ongoing maintenance of the network. It is critical to have the network set up right at the beginning.

2. You will need to purchase servers for dispatch programs and at least one server to run Citrix. The IT professionals will help you on the server configuration and software installation. Also, Citrix will need to be installed on each work station at the remote sites.

3. Each remote location that connects to the central dispatch will need a T1 line. The central dispatch office will also need a T1 line and if separate the company office and the servers will need T1 lines. A local phone company will most likely be able to provide the T1 lines at a monthly rate of $425-$600 per line.

4. The servers need to be upgraded every 3-5 years. Prompt upgrade of Citrix and dispatch software is also often required.

2. VPN and Static IP

SYSDYNE: I have heard of VPN all the time. When is VPN needed to run Systech Integra, Command Series or other dispatch?

Steve Salo: Customers normally use VPN to connect each plant to the private network so that all the computers can be accessed through the company. VPN assigns each computer a private IP. Also, VPN enables customers to use Citrix to access dispatch when they are off-site or travelling. Of course, that requires the VPN client software installed on that computer. Traditional dispatch requires a static IP address for the batch computer or printer in order to receive tickets from dispatch. An alternative would be to purchase static IP from the local phone company, but that will cost $80-$100/month for each IP. Using VPN is the economic choice.

SYSDYNE: Does each batch computer need a static IP with ConcreteGo.com?

Steve Salo: No. ConcreteGo does not require static IP. Also, you can access ConcreteGo.com from anywhere in the world using any computer with an internet connection and a browser.

3. Security

SYSDYNE: How about network security, is a T1 network safer?

Steve Salo: In Theory, yes, a T1 network is a point-point private network. The entire network can be configured to only have one “opening” to the Internet, the public network. And that “opening” is often guarded by firewalls. This can only be true when all your plants are in one “region”. But when your plants go beyond one region or even cross state lines, more often it could no longer be a point-point private network. Rather it will be a hybrid network with T1, T3 and public Internet.

Internet is a public network and has more openings to security risk than a private network. However, a software firewall, often pre-installed with work stations, or a hardware firewall at each location will take care of this issue. IT professionals usually prefer hardware firewalls over software ones because hardware firewalls can take care of all the work stations at each location and offer more flexibility. On the other hand, software firewall must be installed on individual work stations. It will be easier for IT professionals to conduct administrative work to the firewalls if hardware firewalls are in place. This is most relevant for larger producers that have multiple work stations at each location.

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