“We needed a strategic partner that could mature with us,” says HMSHost CIO Sarah Naqvi.

Apr 27 2015

How HMSHost Re-Equipped Its Network to Serve Travelers

A retooled Cisco backbone infrastructure, paired with Citrix WAN optimization, lets HMSHost keep food and beverage services speedy.

Speed matters when you’re in the business of helping travelers launch from over 100 of the world’s top airports and 99 travel plazas along U.S. and Canadian motorways.

Global restaurateur HMSHost is the leading provider of innovative food and beverage experiences at travel venues, representing hundreds of respected hospitality brands. But while its food operations draw rave reviews, its technology team not so long ago found the company’s enterprise network services lacking.

Travelers are early technology adopters,” points out Paul Garcia, senior director of infrastructure for the 30,000-employee HMSHost. “They want reliable Wi-Fi access for their mobile devices, and they don’t want to wait in long lines — if our sales systems are slow — for a coffee at a Starbucks storefront, for instance.”

Increasingly, travelers also want the ability to place their orders wirelessly, Garcia adds. “Whether it’s a device we provide, an app on their phone or a kiosk at a gate, it’s all about efficiency and convenience,” he says. “So, we must have back-end technologies to ensure our point-of-sale systems enable us to deliver the best customer experiences in the business.”

Fortunately, HMSHost now has a speedy and secure infrastructure following installation of a new Citrix CloudBridge WAN optimization platform and related networking gear. The CloudBridge topology uses a hub-and-spoke design that aggregates traffic back from HMSHost’s remote locations to the company’s central data center.

We had to migrate from a legacy solution in a compressed time frame,” says Garcia. “CDW acquired, integrated, configured, staged and shipped the WAN optimization components, customized to our specifications, to each of 200 U.S. locations. All our restaurant managers had to do was plug them in.”

Prior to working with CDW, branch WAN systems at HMSHost locations were complex and failure-prone. With customer expectations rapidly changing and remote sites staffed by nontechnical hospitality workers, HMSHost decided it was time to streamline and strengthen its branch infrastructure.

“We needed to simplify the technology landscape in the field,” says HMSHost CIO Sarah Naqvi. “As a centralized IT organization, we required a remote infrastructure that would be easy to deploy and support from our main data center.”

In practice, this required moving from a patchwork system to a standardized and scalable network environment that would meet current demands as well as support anticipated future needs and growth.

Up to 90%

Speed boost in HMSHost’s point-of-sale transactions after revamping the network infrastructure and rolling out WAN optimization technology

Adding to HMSHost's Menu

Getting the job done started with finding the right technology partner, Naqvi says. “We needed a strategic partner that could mature with us, as well as provide insight into procurement and selection to ensure we received solutions that could perform to our expectations,” she says. The HMSHost tech team also based its decision to work with CDW on the technology provider’s depth and breadth of solution knowledge, both in terms of IT and market performance. “We wanted a partner that could enable us to look at solutions from a holistic approach,” Naqvi says.

Although planned as a multimonth initiative, the deployment became compressed into a 10-week project when HMSHost’s legacy communications partner announced it was shelving the existing backbone solution.

“That’s when the power of our CDW partnership really became clear,” Garcia recalls. “First, we utilized CDW’s Buy and Hold program to purchase equipment cost-effectively. Then, CDW’s Configuration Center team handled all of the configuration and logistical tasks for getting the right equipment to the right location.” 

Through the Buy and Hold program, HMSHost was able to buy all the equipment that it needed up front, says Alison Hearne, a CDW senior sales account manager. “When I heard HMSHost needed a lot of equipment fast, fully configured and shipped across the nation, I knew CDW’s Buy and Hold program would be the best solution,” she adds.

Ordering Up Scalable IT 

That’s a huge time savings for a customer, points out Adam Martin, a CDW advanced technology account executive. “It’s a matter of scale,” he explains. “We’re set up to do a lot more of these a day than an IT team in a business can tackle — even a large business. And, it’s not like most businesses have a configuration center set up in their offices; it’s just not what they do — and why should they need to?”

Working closely with Hearne and Martin, Garcia’s team architected the infrastructure overhaul and plotted a strategy for meeting the new hyper-speed deployment schedule.

After running real-world load tests to define and perfect filtering policies and configuration settings for the new gear, HMSHost and CDW:

  • Deployed Citrix’s CloudBridge for WAN optimization.
  • Replaced aging switches with Cisco 2960-S, 2960-X and 3850-X models.
  • Installed WatchGuard XTM unified threat management firewalls.
  • Implemented Tripp Lite SmartPro UPS devices for resiliency.

“CDW even created detailed installation documentation, with pictures, making it easy for our nontechnical hospitality workers to install everything correctly,” Garcia says.

The critical value of the CDW team’s counsel and hands-on help “can’t be put into words,” he says. “Alison Hearne coordinated the right mix of technical and logistical expertise to ensure the design and delivery of a reliable, high-performance solution.”

Better Networking, At Your Service

Today, the solution ensures that HMSHost partner locations at travel facilities can operate efficiently and reliably, and HMSHost’s tech team can ensure high-quality performance, security and resiliency to users companywide.

Our new solution enables having two discrete networks,” Garcia says. “One is for Internet traffic, and the other handles corporate networking needs. All of the communications, for both networks, go through Citrix CloudBridge for optimization, allowing us to shape traffic.”

Losing contact with a remote location is now a thing of the past. “Before, when there was a disruption, such as a backhoe cutting a cable, we had no communication,” he says. “Now, we’ve designed our two separate WAN links to support the entire load for both. So, if one network goes down, the system automatically fails over to the other network.”

Beyond enhancing services for the partner storefronts and for customers, the optimized WAN also improves HMSHost’s ability to provide the high-caliber services expected in the travel industry.

“We operate in a very complex environment,” Naqvi says. “Beyond regulatory and security requirements, every airport is competing to be seen as the most forward-thinking.”

“With our new network,” she continues, “we can demonstrate our ability to meet the needs of the airport, help increase revenues and work with preferred brands — whether they’re local mom-and-pop organizations with limited resources or major global brands with precise specifications.”

One result of the intense project? HMSHost considers CDW more than a vendor, Naqvi says. “CDW’s a strategic partner that serves as an extension of our overall organization and strategic goals.”

HMSHost CIO Sarah Naqvi, with Paul Garcia, senior director of infrastructure.

Gary Landsman