Aramex embraces adaptability

Aramex embraces adaptability
Published: 12 October 2017 - 6 a.m.
By: David Ndichu

At the intersection of goods delivery and modern market demands lies an evolving transport and logistics technology platform that is transforming transport and logistics. Its the software-based ADC NetScaler from Citrix, and Aramex is one of the first logistics companies in the region to fully embrace it.

Aramex has implemented Citrix solutions to ensure efficiency and reliability of its courier business while safeguarding sensitive customer information, says says Samer Awajan, chief technology officer (CTO), Aramex.

With a workforce of more than 18,000 employees in over 66 countries, Aramex partnered with Citrix to provide couriers and staff with reliable, secure access to core business apps regardless of their location. With employees working in this manner, Aramex can process a higher number of customer orders, generating more revenue for the business.

Applications are increasingly critical to run businesses, and Aramex like many businesses, depends on its ADC to run its apps.

In the face of new application architectures and evolving data centre technologies, the software-based ADC NetScaler simplifies deployment across any form factor, any hypervisor, any cloud. It also offers users the ability to manage, monitor, and troubleshoot the entire infrastructure from a single, unified console.

The NetScaler ADC, with its essential role of routing and optimising traffic and security for specific applications, offers customers the versatility to distinguish between the different types of networks, the various types of applications, the traffic, the data etcetera.

“Therefore, essentially from a performance perspective, it is significantly optimised and ideal for customers such as Aramex who have multiple countries they operate from, and running different applications and also servicing the different multiple devices they are running across vast distances and allowing them to maintain application integrity specifically from a security standpoint for those applications,” says Arthur Dell, director, Technology and Service, MEA, Citrix.

Depending on the amount and volume of traffic traversing the network, customers could have many (appliances) to one or just a single point of entry. “In Aramex’s case, we put a single point of entry and that being the appliance located at their main data centre,” explains Dell.

Business need

E-Courier provides an enterprise software solution for the package delivery industry available as a service.  The solution provides real time package tracking and chain-of-custody tracking.

Aramex today operates a platform through which it provides a range of solutions to customers to facilitate their shipping needs, as well as customising the information that the company exchanges with customers to meet their expectations, says Awajan.

For that, Aramex offers apps for customers that enables them to check incoming packages, customise their delivery options, and check their timing for delivery as well as a set of tools on the company’s website that allow customers interact directly with Aramex.

These apps include ClickToShip, a desktop shipping application. For Aramex customers with regular shipping, ClickToShip automates shipment preparation, pick‐up requests, calculates shipping rates, tracks shipments and manage shipping addresses.

“Customers can install ClickToShip in their businesses to enable them communicate with our datacentre the information they require for their daily shipping. ClickToShip also facilitates the feeding of information on the shipping activities for that customer,” says Awajan. 

On the logistics side, Aramex operates warehouses to store goods for customers. A set of APIs allows customers to instruct Aramex to pick up the goods and place them in a warehouse or dispatch them from the warehouse. “These types of solutions, require very robust infrastructure to make sure that services are available 24/7,” says Awajan.

Aramex provides customers with a number of APIs and tools that allow them seamlessly integrate their website with the company’s various applications. These API tools integrate the customer’s system with Aramex backend via the Internet. They include the Rate Calculator API; Shipping Services API; Shipments Tracking API; and Location Services API.

“We also use the NetScaler to protect our APIs from denial of service attacks or any malicious attacks,” says Awajan.

Delivery personnel are issued with the e-Courier app on their devices and through this app the driver is fed all the deliveries for the day in sequence. And the software will update the system back about on when the delivery is happening and will capture the customer signature. This is an integral part of our operations, says Awajan. 

Aramex began with using the virtual appliances of NetScaler seven years ago, then running a very basic low-scale load balancing environment while running Windows Network Load Balancing. The system failed to serve the business adequately, lacking the required stability as well as the ability to scale out and control all the traffic. After market research, Citrix NetScaler emerged as a very attractive proposition due to the fact that it was also available as a virtualised appliance. This was a very futuristic offering at the time and the company was among the first to offer the virtual appliance early on. Aramex had taken the decision to virtualise its environment so the product fitted perfectly. 

The virtual appliance worked well but as the company grew, there was need to shift to physical boxes Aramex then upgraded to NetScaler ADC to leverage its expanded functionalities such as to control and inspect the traffic , its web application firewall capability, the authentication capabilities, among other advanced features. Aramex was also keen to utilise the appliance’s networking capabilities as well because NetScaler can adapt to the different network segments. 

“We have leveraged the technology to its fullest in the last eight years,” says Awajan.

The NetScaler has exceeded the objectives, says Awajan. “We came from a very basic load balancing Windows environment; this ADC is more than a load balancer and we have learnt a lot on its capabilities. We have leveraged that so that we have started being proactive whenever we face a problem for example do caching or traffic correction, we are able to configure NetScaler and we do this job. It ends up a very integral part of our data centre, says Awajan.

The selection process was straightforward because only Citrix, and perhaps one more vendor offers a virtualised appliance.

Aramex began with a couple of virtual appliances which were used for load balancing at that time on the few web apps the company had at that time, and then grew organically, explains Awajan.

In 2016, Aramex begun to fully leverage the solution.

The only issue during the implementation process was customising the whole SSL operations of the box, which is quite a sophisticated affair, but the people at Citrix were very responsive whenever we raised any issues.

Business Benefit

Using apps and files from anywhere and at any time, delivery drivers can access addresses and cargo manifests much more efficiently. Citrix solutions enable Aramex provide drivers with innovative technology in the palm of their hands, giving them faster access to information and offering a faster service to its global customers.

NetScaler offers a flexible license model that allows users dynamically scale their application delivery infrastructure to respond quickly to changing conditions resulting in protection of their investment.

As Aramex continues its global expansion, they required a flexible solution that could grow with them. NetScaler ADC achieves this by providing a pay-as-you-go model with options to scale up and down as demands change over time.

One of the key benefits of NetScaler is that the platform is software defined, notes Dell. So essentially, while the NetScaler is hosted on a hardware device-and which offers gives certain performance benefits- it’s possible to disconnect the hardware from the software. Essentially therefore, the user is able to first of all invest in the hardware and then proportionally, by carrying out minor software adjustments they can optimise their appliance based on their growth. Customers so that only invest for what they need and divest if demand decreases.

The appliance has also helped Aramex achieve PCI certifications. NetScaler AppFirewall, integrated with the NetScaler ADC platform, enables enterprises to achieve compliance with PCI DSS. Aramex allows online credit card transactions for customers and in this respect, the NetScaler helps Aramex protect cardholder data.

On the business side, NetScaler has allowed the business to scale when needed and do that easily because the box helps redirect the traffic when needed as well as helping users control and reconfigure. The ease of reconfiguration is very beneficial, Awajan says, in helping carry out quick releases for new features that that will help the business. The ADC also boosts application performance with its flash capabilities.

The versatility of the NetScaler appliance is that it take any of their business applications and optimise the network for those applications. “Obviously, the goal is to provide a layer of security and wrap that around those applications. In Aramex case, we are running their business critical applications as well as their other business applications. So we are not constrained by application type, and we can service all depending on the business need,” says Dell.

It’s also very easy to configure load balancing on the appliance, a basic operation of the appliance.

“NetScaler offers a range of solutions from authentication, caching, content switching, and load balancing and more, not including the various reports we get out of the box on traffic and on certain behaviours,” says Awajan.

The NetScaler integrates well with the rest of the solutions in the Aramex data centre, says Awajan. It actually makes the data centre operations very easy to configure because it eliminates a lot of the hustles and the traffic routing. NetScaler makes configuring existing systems easy as it releases existing systems from the need to carry out tasks such as traffic routing and traffic inspection and SSL uploading. It used to take a lot of resources to configure all these systems.

Aramex is a truly global company with offices all over the world. It operates five data centres around the world, in Jordan, India, UAE, London and Singapore.

Aramex maintains a team of 12 people in the network infrastructure segment of the data centre, all of them specialised in their fields, including storage, virtualisation, Active Directory, etc. Further the IT team has local expertise for Citrix systems with a team of three people.

The company has centralised its IT operations at the HQ in Jordan from where it remotely manages the other data centres.

This makes the solution really scalable in terms of the cost per performance. We can aggregate upto 32 devices, again offering massive scalability depending on customer requirements.  “So it future proofs the investment for the customer so the initial investment is able to be retained as they grow the business,” says Dell.  

Security

AppFirewall is one of the features of the NetScaler which protects against threats, ranging from cloud computing to 24/7 availability to mitigating security threats.

Customers are able to prepare and track shipments, schedule pickups, prepare invoices, and more via Aramex’s website all of which requires their data. NetScaler AppFirewall defends the site against attacks while keeping customers’ personal details secure—all without compromising the overall user experience.

NetScaler defends against cyber threats—both on premises and in the cloud—with full application security capabilities. Features including an industry-leading web application firewall give you complete DDoS protection, strong identity and access management, and deep threat visibility.

Cloud is the very obvious area of focus in the future, says Awajan. “We are already engaged in cloud implementation and utilising the cloud platform, from the compute, to storage to the PaaS capabilities of the cloud. In coming years, we will be transforming our environment to utilise the cloud even more and offload certain inefficient operations from the data centre to the cloud.” 

One of the value propositions for Citrix NetScaler is end-to-end visibility of the entire application infrastructure, regardless of where the applications live from local to cloud-based data centres. 

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