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SAGINAW, Mich. -- As part of an extensive system upgrade, Garb-Ko Inc., the franchise operator of 857-Eleven convenience stores in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, installed PRTG Network Monitor by Paessler AG to provide round-the-clock monitoring of all network components and deliver instant alerts anytime network problems arise. PRTG has helped Garb-Ko reduce troubleshooting time by more than 50 percent, prevent lost revenues and generate a positive return on investment in just the first two weeks.
"When we began, all locations were using dial-up connections and we had no remote access to anything," said Jason Lee, systems and security administrator for Garb-Ko. "When there was a problem, it not only took us a while to discover it, but our average response time was about 45 minutes -- and that's just to troubleshoot the issue, not actually solve the problem."
Lee, in an interview with CSNews Online said, "We needed to find something to tell us in seconds if a device at a particular location is not working."
Garb-Ko's IT network includes gas pump controllers, point-of-sale cash registers, credit and prepaid phone card interfaces, ATMs, money order kiosks and state-operated supplemental nutrition program terminals at 85 stores spread out among three states. If any of those systems go down, it would be bad news for the Saginaw, Mich.-based retailer. But, according to Lee, the real payoff of the new monitoring system is the ability to keep tabs on the company's credit card network in real time.
"You can't monitor everything in real time," said Lee, "but a retailer has to be able to accept payments from customers."
Depending on the time of the outage, at some of Garb-Ko's busier locations, the store could lose $200 in sales in as little as 20 minutes of downtime. Multiplied over all locations and multiple non-integrated systems, a significant connectivity glitch could result in major losses.
Lee's goals when he set out to plan, budget and execute the network upgrade were to improve data connectivity, establish remote access from headquarters to each franchise location, and streamline troubleshooting by actively monitoring each store's multiple connections with an easy-to-use solution that didn't break the bank.
Once high-speed data connectivity and remote access was established across all locations, Lee began looking for a way to integrate real-time monitoring to help him and his small staff keep tabs on the myriad terminals and systems in place at each store -- including those provided by outside vendors, such as Western Union and prepaid phone card vendors. With firewall protection in place, Lee put his background in programming to work to build a monitoring program from scratch that would provide visibility across the network to enhance reliability and speed up response time.
Despite his programming prowess, "It quickly became obvious that the task was overwhelming," Lee said. "Scalability and reporting were major issues. It was just too much to bring together starting from scratch."
Like many other savvy IT specialists, Lee consulted the obvious source to find a solution to meet his needs: Google. A quick search for "network monitoring software" led him to test several solutions, narrowing the choices down to five vendors.
When four more expensive choices failed to meet his expectations for scalability, reliability, ease of use and cost, Lee chose PRTG Network Monitor for enterprise-wide deployment. He installed a free trial version in one store, and the very next day purchased a 100-sensor license.
Within three days, Garb-Ko had upgraded to the enterprise license with unlimited sensors -- a rapid scalability that was virtually impossible with other solutions. Lee said the software generated a positive return on investment, essentially paying for itself in just the first two weeks in operation.
"Simply put, PRTG operates on the KISS philosophy: keep it simple, stupid," said Lee. "It's so incredibly intuitive to install, I never had to read the manual -- that's how easy it was. We had PRTG up and running on all stores on the initial firewall install within a day. That's pretty amazing."
Since initial installation, the Garb-Ko team has realized impressive gains in troubleshooting efficiency and improved uptime across the network. PRTG's instant notification system provides automatic alerts when an unusual or out-of-compliance network stat is detected to help IT staff quickly respond to problems as they occur.
The system even supports automatic alert routing based on customizable thresholds: certain events are configured to route directly to Level 1 helpdesk support, and after 30 minutes, the trouble ticket automatically escalates to engineering support.
With proactive, ongoing monitoring across all networked assets, PRTG allows the team to review historic usage statistics, traffic patterns and other network operations to spot potential precipitating events leading up to an outage and ferret out possible memory leaks, firmware corruption and other anomalies across the entire landscape, including staff problems and user errors.
PRTG's Web-based interface and iPRTG mobile app provides access to the entire network monitoring environment from anywhere, at anytime, a particular advantage for Lee and his team of two who must meet the IT needs of some 100 different locations.
"I use my iPad most of the time, so it's great that PRTG is now portable with the mobile app," said Lee, who added, "Not only is it reassuring that the network is being watched, but it also cuts our troubleshooting time by a good 50 to 60 percent and helps us to be more proactive in finding and solving problems."
Now with more than 400 sensors deployed and managed remotely across its franchise network, Garb-Ko is able to not only ensure the continued flow of data to support revenue growth, but also better plan for IT upgrades when needed. By continuously monitoring its servers, bandwidth, routers and other gear, the company can now see definitive evidence for investing in upgrades or perhaps revising its utilization to make better, more-efficient use of its existing resource capacity.
To ensure consistent performance of all network activities, custom sensors also monitor batch file processes. Lee even created 20 sensors to monitor the backup service on the Garb-Ko servers to provide peace-of-mind assurance that backups were being performed consistently and correctly.
"Having PRTG to keep watch over the network has even spoiled the franchisees a bit," Lee added. "Now when something goes wrong, they expect an immediate response, even if it's a vendor problem completely outside of our control. But, we can even use data from PRTG to help vendors troubleshoot problems with their equipment, which helps get our systems back up and keep them running at peak performance to ensure reliable service to the customer."