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Bike manufacturer rides out problems with analog lines.


Analog leased lines help Chicago-based Schwinn Bicycle Company eliminate its data communications problems.

The cycling and fitness equipment manufacturer's dial and digital network was experiencing dropouts, and it was difficult to tell whose problem it was and whether the problem was internal or external.

"We decided to switch over to analog lines because all the network monitoring equipment existed at that time strictly for analog circuits," says Steven G. Arnold, MIS official.

"With the analog we gained a dial-backup capability and a dial restart feature. Basically the most we are ever down is the switchover time between the leased-line drop and the dial modems making the connection."

Data Center

Schwinn installed five data-only leased lines.

The Chicago data center stores everything from the company's four distribution centers in California, Georgia, New Jersey, and Illinois. Distribution applications include order entry and inventory control.

"This eliminates our problem of having five copies of everything that were never really in sync all the time," explains Arnold.

"Going back to a centralized approach cut the paperwork, the duplication, and the error in having five copies."

The center also connects to Schwinn's manufacturing facility located in Greenville, Miss.

In addition to manufacturing and distribution, the network handles financial applications such as payroll, human resources, general ledger, accounts payable, and many others.

The network is made up totally of IBM terminals, ranging from 3179s to 3192s to 3174s, and Codex 2300 Series modems.

Candle software links personal computers looking like local terminals for system support.

Network Control

A DNCS network control system monitors line quality, the modems, the line signals being fed, whether the controller is down, and whether the front end is down.

It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The DNCS requires less training than earlier monitoring solutions.

"It does more for the operators," says Arnold, "so we don't have to educate them as in-depth on everything."


Arnold lists education as one of the two areas of payback achieved with the data centr.

"The DNCS lets you learn -- especially on an operational basis -- what things occur and create your problems," he explains.

"They never really teach those things in class."

Most communications classes run $800 to $1000, estimates Arnold.

The other area of payback is control.

Before the new data center, Schwinn relied on the vendors to identify each network problem.

"Once in a while something comes up where you're never really sure who was at fault," says Arnold.

"Now we have the control to know who was at fault, and to do everything but fix the circuit."

Loss Of Power

Arnold says the data network is down about 5-10% of the time, even with the dial backup.

The majority of the downtime is not caused by the circuits or lines, but rather problems such as power outages.

"We lost power in Chicago about three times this year already," the MIS official remembers.

But power protection is a much too expensive solution for Schwinn.

Even if it were affordable, Arnold does not see it as a fullproof solution.

"Unless you can get somebody to re-route your lines around the globe so you can come in from two different sides, you just can't 100% protect yourself," Arnold says.


Schwinn is not yet prepared for a completely open network.

The network has dial access for systems support, but nothing else.

Arnold says at some point in time the company wants its 1500 to 1800 dealers to be able to call into the system and perform order entry and order inquiries.

However, it can get costly dialing back to traveling personnel in places all around the world.

Arnold points out that 800 services are also a cost concern at Schwinn.

"We're finding out that we spend a lot of money on 800 services," he says.

"every dealer warehouse calls their own territory. Then we have a lot of inner calls going between the distribution centers and corporate and between the distribution centers themselves."

Schwinn may add fractional T1 to three sites soon.

"Deborah Carter, telecommunications coordinator , and I are in the process of looking at fractional T1 in connection with AT&T, initially just for voice and Megacom 800 service type facilities," explains Arnold. "But we're also going to run data down a couple ports just to the AT&T poing at this time."

A six-month trial for FT1 will start by the end of the year.

"If the trial pays out, next year we may do two other sites, he says.

The limited 19.2 kb/s speed of analog started to bring on response time problems at Schwinn.

As a result, the company may be forced to move to switched 56.

"This means throw everything out and start from scratch," says Arnold.

"But it's getting cheaper to go digital as opposed to analog. We're finally getting to the point where we're about ready to bite the bullet and do it."

The only problem Arnold sees with digital is the high cost associated with implementing the dial-backup capability.

Despite the unavoidable need to switch over to digital some time in the near future, Arnold has no regrets with Schwinn's decision to go analog four years ago.

"It saved us money back then, we learned a lot, and our reliability was a lot higher because we made that switch over," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Kaminski, Bob
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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