PORTLAND, Ore. -- United Grocers here is currently installing a frame relay network that will streamline store-to-corporate communications and could form the foundation for future initiatives on the Internet.
Use of the frame relay communications protocol and recently installed client/server technology will enhance capacity of the wide-area network now being developed to link the corporate headquarters and its roughly 360 member stores.
United expects to gain cost savings and improved transmission time by consolidating the various leased telephone lines currently used for store-to-corporate communications.
"Everything in the world is going down one cable line now" with the new system, said Michael Bowman, director of management information systems. "That's allowed us to leverage our applications and our costs dramatically.
"We had very limited capabilities [before] with our leased lines," he added. "Our protocols were limited dramatically. [But] we can do just about everything we need to under frame relay."
United has installed its frame relay system in more than 300 stores and plans to complete its rollout in the next five months.
"We're going at the rate of a couple of stores a week," he said. "We're taking the leased lines out across our membership."
Through frame relay, United will be able to conduct more frequent and comprehensive file transfers between the store and corporate levels. Frame relay will also help the wholesaler standardize communications between its stores.
The frame relay protocol is similar to X.25 packet switching
but can handle faster transmission speeds.
"It's truly an enabling technology," Bowman said. "We have a wide variety of applications and systems that are going over" to the stores equipped with frame relay.
Frame relay could also provide an easy step for linking up to the Internet, he said. The wholesaler has no immediate plans to use the Internet, though some of its member stores have expressed interest.
"Through frame relay we can now connect to the Net and we can connect to someone else's network," Bowman said. "It's a real simple thing because we're all standardized now."
The wholesaler is now creating a security firewall to control access "and positioning ourselves should [the Internet] become something our members feel they can get some value from."