This story began in 1978 when three guys with a truck were confident they could raise the bar on the quality, inventory, and logistics of how fresh produce moves from where it is grown to where it is consumed.
Today, with innovation and technology woven into everything we do, Charlie’s has evolved into an independent, full-service produce company focused on sourcing an extensive selection of fruits and vegetables from local growers whenever possible. Charlie’s does this by cultivating strong, lasting partnerships and searching for new possibilities in the industry to help everyone achieve their full potential.
Vital Connectivity Between Widespread Locations
Headquartered in Seattle, Charlie’s Produce has a multi-state distribution network with centers in Los Angeles, Boise, Anchorage, Portland, and Spokane. Core IT is provided centrally from Seattle with an IT team of 12 looking after the needs of some 1,000 employees. Each distribution center has dedicated purchasing teams who coordinate the procurement of local products and collaborate on regional and international purchases.
Efficient connectivity with these sites, which are thousands of miles apart, is critical for the daily operation of Charlie’s Produce and historically it was based on MPLS telecom links with aging routers and switches.
Forty years of continued growth has seen Charlie’s Produce become the Northwest’s leading organic produce supplier and this evolution is based on innovation and technology that is woven into everything the company does. However, networking was one area where this was falling down.
“Our failover was not robust enough to provide adequate bandwidth for our remote sites,” says IT Technician, Jason Worthen. “When this happened, it would lead to outages for those sites until proper devices and circuits were back in place. With all of these network issues, expansion and growth provided a challenging task for us.”
Failures of this kind were particularly serious because Charlie’s Produce deals in fresh produce with 24×7 operation.
“We really have no windows when we can go down. Even in the middle of the night when other companies would be fine until morning comes, we just can’t afford any kind of downtime,” says IT Operations Manager, Dan Hudson.
Migration to Latest Cisco Technology
Something had to be done and following a previous-experience-recommendation from Charlie’s Produce IT Director, Ozzy Zaheer, the company contacted Right! Systems. A team of sales staff and engineers from Right! Systems attended an initial briefing, analyzed the problems, then came back with recommendations focused on Cisco solutions.
The recommendations were accepted and Right! Systems was engaged for the implementation. It started with a core switch refresh which transitioned from a Meraki switch stack to Cisco Catalyst 3850 series models. Cisco Catalyst 2960 series switches are being installed at other sites. Cisco 4400 series routers were implemented at the main site and at the company’s failover co-location site, with 4300 series routers at remote sites.
“The transition and switchover to the new equipment went very well,” says Worthen.
SolarWinds IT management software is used for internal network monitoring and a third-party consultant conducts external monitoring.
“A major reason why we chose Cisco networking products was reliability,” explains Hudson. “Most of the world’s backbone is on Cisco equipment. It’s a well-known brand with good entry-point models and it was recommended by Right! Systems’ engineers. Also, Cisco has potential future software developments we may want to take advantage of.”
Reduced Cost with Increased Efficiency
Significant benefits have followed the Cisco refresh by Right! Systems. There has been a 100% improvement in availability with no unplanned downtime and because Charlie’s Produce now has true failover to a co-location site, remote offices can continue to work even in disaster situations.
The migration has also saved money as Hudson explains: “We were relying on MPLS technologies for our connectivity and from a telco perspective, MPLS lines are expensive. We’re now utilizing the Internet more and after upgrading the network we have been able to cancel several MPLS lines. With these changes, we have seen a reduction in overall network costs.”
“Another advantage is that we no longer require people on-site to deal with connectivity issues which can be an impossible situation for remote sites.”
Increased bandwidth has greatly increased speeds which have streamlined staff productivity. One example is a vital warehouse report that used to take 20 minutes to compile and generate. It can now be done in as little as two minutes.
“Utilizing newer technologies means that we now have more than enough bandwidth to support expansion at our remote sites,” says Worthen. “Previously, if they had taken on new staff, it was just more people to use a line that was not proficient. Now they are well-placed to take advantage of new business opportunities.”
Highly Valued Ongoing Partnership
Charlie’s Produce has a high opinion of its association with Right! Systems.
“Right! Systems engineers are very knowledgeable and their work has been outstanding. In a couple of instances when they did not know the correct answer to an issue we were having, they were quick to get on the phone to Cisco and find a solution more rapidly than has been the case with others we have used in the past, ” says Hudson.
“They cooperated well, planning our upgrades either on-site or by phone and were accessible at our remote sites, even if it was on the weekends or after hours. We appreciated that because as a 24×7 company, we find it hard to carve out maintenance windows. It always has to be after hours or on a Saturday or Sunday and a lot of other vendors will not accommodate that.”
Looking to the future, Charlie’s Produce sees the Right! Systems engagement as an ongoing partnership which will provide support as it continues with Cisco upgrades and may also be involved with the onboarding of potential new locations.