In this fast-paced world there is little time for sentiment. To gear up for the challenges of today’s business, manufacturing plants require ready-to-go solutions that can not only streamline the operation of tens of thousands elements within the network but also provide the much needed security. And we are pleased to share this journey with a global brand that needs no introduction. See how Extreme Networks drives the digital transformation of Volkswagen Poznań!
Volkswagen Poznań is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, the multinational automotive manufacturing company and a part of the Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge (Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles) brand. And despite the fact that the latter focuses its production capabilities mainly on delivery trucks, passenger vehicles can be also spotted around the assembly lines in Polish plants. But not only does Volkswagen Poznań play a vital role in the operation of the automotive giant from Wolfsburg. It also tops the rankings of the best employers in Poland every year, giving jobs to more than 10 000 people.
But it is not the reason why the company leads the global race in the automotive industry. It is because Volkswagen Poznań is constantly moving, always seeking new ways to support both its business and employees.
Just like every international corporation in recent years, Volkswagen is going through a digital transformation that affects the operation of IT – the large cog in the machine of change. Among the chief challenges experienced by the Poznań plants, one should mention the growing need for innovation, more agile response to customers’ needs, better process optimization, and enhanced data security. And all that in the face of the changing labor market which grows more and more competitive…
– Technological development influences all aspects of our functioning. The core of our business shifts from the product itself towards the services that come with it. On the other hand, current advancement transports us into a new reality of shrinking time and space between physical locations, posing new challenges for the quality, optimization and information security – explains Paweł Stakuć, Senior Information Technology Specialist, IT Infrastructure.
Volkswagen Poznań's plants in Poznań and Września.
The Fast and The Safe
When analyzing the challenges lying before the company, Volkswagen’s IT team in Poznań identified two major operational goals. First of all, it became clear that the organization needed to be able to provision services in any location within the network infrastructure. That, however, required a custom-built technological solution. A solution that would take the pressure off the administrator in regard to managing critical elements of the network and, as far as it was possible, automate the network itself.
– For example, if we had to quickly deploy the same service in the welding shop, as we had done on the assembly line, two geographically separated locations, we needed to introduce many changes manually when using the previous infrastructure. Executing it quickly and, more importantly, safely, was a very difficult task – says Paweł Stakuć. – If a need for new service provisioning should arise, the planned solution had to allow us to quickly reconfigure and expand the service to other locations without affecting other services running at that time – he adds.
The second, directly related operational goal was to provide the much needed reliability and security for a group of devices with different levels of support, starting from the most basic production elements such as screw drivers which measure torque and then send the readings to the data base via Wi-Fi. And if we look closely, we will see tens of thousands other low-tier clients, such as controllers, building’s HVAC systems or IoT devices, that require the same level of protection and reliability.
– Every piece of equipment is run by an operating system which is more or less vulnerable to potential security threats. Based upon that assumption, we devised the concept of safety zones. We set out to establish different groups of clients based on the level of “trust” so that we could manage them and separate them from each other more easily. A move away from the fairly standard model towards a software-defined network solution that would allow us flexibility, visibility, and agile network management, was a prerequisite for the procurement process – mentions Paweł Stakuć.
Old flames die hard…
But how were the identified needs translated into actual, working solutions? Under the invitation to tender, Volkswagen Poznań held talks with all of the leading vendors in the world offering products and technologies capable of delivering designated goals. Extreme Networks made it to the shortlist. In accordance with said talks, a general network design was created, followed by three ready-to-implement concepts based on different bills of materials.
Eventually, the choice fell on Extreme Networks. And as it turns out, there is more to this story…
– It wasn’t the first time that our paths crossed. Between 2002 and 2010, Volkswagen Poznań was using the same Extreme’s networking solutions that had been previously used in other facilities of the Volkswagen Group in Germany. Although some years later our products were replaced with equipment from a different vendor, following an internal policy, Extreme’s new solution garnered enough interest and confidence to get us “back in the game” – says Adam Minowski, System Engineers at Extreme Networks and the leader of the project. – This time around, thanks to the new capabilities of our technology, we were able to come up with a solution that was distinctively different from the competitors’ proposals, offering a much simplified approach towards Fabric – he explains.
– What convinced us to choose Extreme’s solution was the fact that it guaranteed high flexibility and took complexity out of network management by offering a healthy dose of automation. On top of that, the proposal turned out to be best one from the financial perspective, which was also a decisive factor – says Paweł Stakuć. – We also listened closely to our colleagues from Škoda Auto who had moved to a similar technology from Extreme and were very pleased with it. We went through a couple of visits to their factories to take a closer look at their solution and compare it with our needs. We decided that “this was it” – he adds.
As much flexibility, as Fabrically possible!
But where exactly lies the ingenuity behind this approach? The concept of groups and streamlined end-clients service required flexibility stemming from the edge of the network. Using Extreme’s VSP switches, the core and distribution layers in the “traditional” core / distribution / access triad were consequently replaced with Fabric cloud.
The Fabric is also supported by the access layer, which is based on EXOS switches, as well as Extreme Wireless Wi-Fi network equipped with the Fabric Attach function. What’s more, thanks to the applied security policies, both the EXOS switches and Wi-Fi access points are able to control the client’s traffic specifically where it is being generated. This model of infrastructure allows IT team to create safe, isolated environment for the service of specific groups of end-clients which not always can be managed through certificate signing rights.
Thanks to the Fabric, it became possible to quickly deploy services for devices while simultaneously isolating them from the traffic that is critical for the plant’s operation.
And all of that under the watchful eye of the Extreme Management Center and Extreme Control NAC system which not only ensures security but to some degree also supports the automation of the Fabric layer. With Extreme Access Control to its aid, Volkswagen Poznań is able to deploy services dynamically. Take VLAN, for example. Ultimately it is NAC who decides which VLAN or which group of devices the certain client is supposed to end up with, without interfering with the switch configuration and without defining what element is actually connected to the certain port. All the administrator has to do is manage the network with a single pane-of-glass panel provided by Extreme Management Center.
– All of the aforementioned components: VSP and EXOS switches, the Wi-Fi network, management system and access control system work together flawlessly, creating a single, complex, tailor-made solution in the spirit of Extreme Automated Campus – Adam Minowski sums up.
Gearing up towards digital transformation
Not only is the new network infrastructure well-embedded in the long-term company development plan of Volkswagen Poznań, but it also plays a vital role in the overarching strategy of the German automotive giant. The aim of the development project was to prepare the company for the next step of digital revolution within next 5-10 years. To that end, the IT team at Volkswagen Poznań identified several development areas with a primary purpose to streamline and accelerate the company’s journey towards digital future. Here is what the company managed to accomplish with the help of Extreme Networks solutions:
- Operational excellence combined with safe and efficient IT infrastructure services – the simplification, automation and increased security of implementing changes allows gathering large amounts of data from different areas which, in turn, enables insights and analytics, more efficient troubleshooting, as well as optimization of the production processes. Extreme solutions drive awareness and responsibility in regards to security of data and infrastructure – the area that was once perceived as one of the main obstacles to organizational change. All of the aforementioned advancements follow the overarching IT strategy of the company.
- Automation of the administration processes – high bandwidths in the skeleton network and an infrastructure that enables operation of a large amount of connected devices are bringing forth the vision of a smart factory described in detail in the company’s Business 4.0 and Industry 4.0 development concepts. The dramatically reduced time for change requests, incidents and requests for delivery of services makes troubleshooting and making decisions much easier. Thanks to the simplified management, high-class network virtualization and the built-in segmentation, Volkswagen Poznań is able to rapidly create new groups of devices, without interfering with the entire network infrastructure or the network’s core.
- The digital workplace – the comprehensive client service through authentication methods within Wi-Fi network, regardless of the physical location of the device, supports the mobility of the plant’s staff. Better access to the infrastructure and communications technologies drives the employee performance and builds a strong employer brand.
And, what is equally important, the IT team managed to accomplish all that in a seamless manner, without cutting off the critical areas of operation. The entire move to the new Extreme Fabric Connect solution was a matter of hours, not days.
– The increased availability and convergence of the services have direct effect on our Service Level Agreement which we manage to improve with each passing year. Our current target is 99.96% for the entire IT infrastructure. We don’t just reach that objective; we exceed it – says proudly Paweł Stakuć. – You could probably say that with the new network solution, our company geared up towards digital future. And we enter that future as a leader of the automotive industry and the top employer in Poland – he sums up.