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Focus on Installation: L’Oral’s Technology Make Over

A technology overhaul at L'Oreal Canada's new headquarters, which included a sophisticated networking and structured cabling system, has left the company sitting pretty.


February 1, 2002  


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When one of the world’s leading cosmetics manufacturers decided to give its Canadian base a major facelift, the foundation for the make over was high-performance cabling.

L’Oral — a company with 46 plants worldwide, a global work force of more than 48,000, and a brand name synonymous with high fashion and high quality — says Canada is one of its strongest markets. Company officials say the recent $300,000 installation at the company’s Quebec facilities reflects the strength of that market, and the need to address sustained growth in the future.

“We needed room to grow,” says Pierre Journel, L’Oral’s network and systems manager for Canada. Consequently, the company’s new office and warehouse facility in St. Laurent on Montreal Island, located just 30 minutes from downtown Montreal, was retooled to address present concerns as well as future potentialities.

“We have three main sites in Montreal Island: our headquarters, a production facility and our distribution center,” says Journel. “The old facility was much too small. And cabling in the old building was just a nightmare.” The company was running a 10-megabit LAN on old cabling technology for the whole warehouse part of building, which is large and houses approximately 150 workers. Additions were made, in a piecemeal fashion, but eventually it became apparent that a cabling infrastructure overhaul was required.

“What we had was not strong: if someone did a heavy transfer, you could feel the effects on the network, we’d have dropped PCs and other problems. During the last couple years, we did increase space but it wasn’t possible to go much further,” he says.

UPGRADING DISTRIBUTION

The 37,000-square-metre distribution facility is one of three L’Oral facilities being upgraded with improved IT systems, including new cabling infrastructure from Avaya. Offices have been operational as of May; the warehouse system was installed earlier, in line with a tight deadline and accomplished in about three weeks. An SAP enterprise resource planning system was installed on NT servers at the new warehouse facility.

“The project started in November, and Immo [Avaya’s value added reseller] was only in there for two to three weeks,” says Bob Kostash, the sales director for Avaya Canada Corp. in Markham, ON, who manages the company’s structured connectivity solutions program in Canada.

Clients for the NT servers in the L’Oral installation included hand-held devices and laptop computers used by staff working throughout the high bay storage areas, says Kostash. Also, forklift truck drivers have computers on their vehicles to display picking lists and other information they need to do their job efficiently. Wireless receivers serving all these devices were linked to the central SAP servers via a cabling infrastructure built using Avaya’s SYSTIMAX GigaSPEED system, which serves a 100Base-T Ethernet system.

“The (system) is a fast Ethernet, local area network,” says Kostash. It’s important for people working in large warehouses to be linked with central systems so they always know which task is the priority and how it should be completed. And the demand this puts on data communications will grow quickly as ERP and office systems become more sophisticated and make greater use of multimedia.”

While the company’s network and systems manager agrees that the company’s cabling make over may not be that visible on the surface, the installation is significant in terms of its impact on efficiency and effectiveness.

“We knew we needed a very strong network architecture,” says L’Oral ‘s Journel. “Something very reliable, that would give us enough performance…And now we have something that will last 10 to 15 years, at least.”

A CATEGORY 6 SYSTEM

The SYSTIMAX GigaSPEED offering was able to meet L’Oral’s needs with end-to-end throughput in the range. Conforming to the proposed Category 6/Class E specifications, the system is specified out to 250 MHz. This compares with 100 MHz for Category 5 cabling. So, when required, the cabling at L’Oral will be able to support Gigabit Ethernet, ATM or other gigabit networking applications.

One primary benefit of the Category 6 cable system is the capacity for high-speed applications. Another benefit, says Kostash, is improved performance: “More efficient support of lower speed applications. Cat 6 gives you better electrical performance margins for your applications. So it’s kind of a double whammy.”

Immo Communication in Montreal was selected to handle the installation. The project had to be run against tight deadlines and installers needed to co-ordinate their activity with other contractors on the site. To stay on schedule, Kostash says, this often required seven-day-a-week and overnight working.

“It was a pretty tight timeline and it’s commendable what (Immo) was able to do in the time they had,” he says. The Immo team of up to 10 people worked in partnership with Bell Canada, which installed telephony equipment connected via the cabling. Kostash says that, in total, more than 1,600 outlets for telephones, PCs, peripherals and other devices were installed.

The cabling used throughout the installation was created to conform to the Canadian FT4 fire resistance regulations. Kostash says this runs above ceilings and, in office areas, drops down through ducting to groups of four outlets mounted on partition walling. Copper cabling in these runs is connected to 6 and 12 fiber backbones utilizing Avaya’s OptiSPEED cabling. In total, these include more than 168 kilometres of copper wiring and over two kilometres of optical fiber.

“Essentially it’s a ceiling distribution system,” says Kostash. “What they did was to flood building zones with extra terminated cables, up to 16 cables per zone, so that there would be extra cable capacity in the ceilings that could be quickly and easily accessed for future additions.”

Avaya’s PATCHMAX RJ45 patching system is being used to route connections through the new system. These panels and cords are performance matched with GigaSPEED cabling to ensure that the full Category 6 specifications are met by end-to-end connections.

Patching hardware is located in one of seven subsidiary equipment rooms (satellites) allowing the building to be wired in a pattern that minimizes the impact on users if there is any local damage or failures.

LINKING BUILDINGS

In parallel with the warehouse installation, Immo also installed dedicated fiber links between two of L’Oral’s buildings in downtown Montreal. This enables both sites to communicate seamlessly as one single LAN.

“Typically, the LAN is contained by a building,” notes Kostash. “But if a company — as L’Oral was able to do — can secure some space in a conduit between buildings and put in dedicated fiber links, then they own and manage (it). And they can extend the link between buildings.”

Pierre Journel says “future-proofing” was a priority for the new building’s IT infrastructure. L’Oral has made a substantial new commitment in Montreal, and the new cabling will play a key role in systems that will let the company produce returns on that investment over years to come.

The L’Oral installation has a 20-year component guarantee and application assurance.

“If a company installs Cat 6 they know they can handle the networking applications that are now available — and others that are emerging,” says Kostash. “For example, today Gigabit Ethernet copper-based technology exists, but it has not been widely deployed to the desktop yet because it’s so expensive. But it will come down in price and quality of service to the point where people will consider driving gigabit speeds out to the desk.”

TODAY’S WORLD

Kostash is not surprised to hear that Journel describes the old cabling system in the St. Laurent warehouse as “a nightmare.”

“You know, that’s not just this situation. I think that’s a fairly typical comment,” he says. “A lot has changed in the last few years, as far as structured cabling is concerned. The installations done these days are done quite impeccably.”

In that past, things were “pretty haphazard by compariso
n,” says Kostash. Today, L’Oral has a major new warehouse and office facility on the outskirts of Montreal that is more than equipped to handle storage and distribution — and sustained growth — in the Canadian market.

Now L’Oral has what many only wish for: bandwidth to spare. Orders for well-known cosmetic brands as Lancome, Biotherm, Maybelline, Vichy, Garnier and, of course, L’Oral, will be handled from St. Laurent with greater efficiency. With its high-performance cabling, the facility can manage increasing capacity, while the new cabling systems facilitate a faster, and more efficient, order fulfillment process.

How appropriate: A cosmetics leader now faces the future in high-speed style.

Technology journalist JoAnn Napier is co-author of “Technology With Curves” (HarperCollins). She is also associate producer of a TV series, Life on The Internet, and two documentary specials (Using the Internet, Understanding the Internet) — all on PBS.


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