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Data networking is lean and mean at McDonald's.

In a slow growth economy, the key to efficient data networking for a fast food service company with global coverage is to maintain flexibility in its products, its networks, and the way it combines them.

All aspects of the communication process must co-exist, including LANs, WANs, and the EDI (electronic data interchange) between the company and its business partners.

For the past two years, McDonald's Corp. in Oak Brook, Ill., has been developing a network which does this cost-effectively.

Planning phase

As with most corporate networks, McDonald's existing WAN environment expanded in a piecemeal fashion, leading to equipment incompatibility and disparate platforms which made it difficult or impossible to perform certain needed functions.

Richard Belcastro, director of the network development group, wanted a strategy which would maximize the benefits achievable.

The network should operate over alternative third-party networks, through an integrated design, consolidated into a single enterprise network.

The corporate backbone should accommodate new applications, new users, and changes in functions and traffic volume, and permit faster provisioning of service.

Belcastro wanted all of that without increasing costs.

The network had to handle growth in traffic that was much greater than expected. Traffic during the low growth economy has been increasing at about 30% per year.


Belcastro says the task was to consolidate ubiquitous networks and database access for the company's customers and business partners.

"We chose to implement the plan with a conservative network which has flexibility in both the equipment and the business arrangements. For instance, the straightforward contract of our current interexchange carrier influenced our selection of it as our long-distance data carrier." The company uses US Sprint for data, AT&T for voice.

"A LAN growth of 300% in two years forced us to deal with new protocols, better network management, security, backup, and many other issues," he continues. "As this growth slows, McDonald's will migrate its LANs out to remote sites."

The existing network consists of a LAN backbone, intelligent hubs working on unshielded twisted pair wire, and a 16 Mb/s token ring.

For management of its WAN, McDonald's uses General DataComm equipment.

Belcastro says the key requirements of the network are ability to provide:

* Ubiquitous and universal data access

* Absorption of other corporate networks

* Ability to handle higher traffic

* Generic file transfer

* Migration of traffic from inter-LAN to inter-LAN over WANs

* Support for multiple protocols.

A design was chosen that incorporated basic fractional T1 and T1 backbone with switched or dedicated access.

It used value added networks (VANs) where needed to handle demands of new business such as EDI and high volume changing business, requiring X.25.

It offered electronic mail and EDI support, multi-protocol routing for LANs, and evolution toward a distributed architecture.

The flexible, fault-tolerant topology included local loop centralized network management, and a higher level of overall network management.


McDonald's took a hard look at its business needs during this economic downturn and has focused on more "sure things" rather than adding a lot of new functionality.

"McDonald's prides itself on a network cost which is just over one-third of its competition's," Belcastro says.

"We anticipate a total savings of about $9 million in 1991 with nearly $2 million of that coming as a result in growth of data usage.

"Only when our network is lean and mean will we start factoring broadband technologies like Sonet, SMDS, BISDN, and FDDI into our long-term strategic planning."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Stewart, Alan
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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