An infrastructure that couldn't support rapid growth

A superfast network

A more accurate process, faster production, and new business

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Thomas Bros. Maps Inc., practically a California icon, has been in business since 1915. Almost every car in the state has a spiral-bound atlas, tattered from use, stuffed into the glove compartment. In the past four years, however, the Irvine, Calif., company has experienced a growth spurt -- much of it the result of its decision to switch from a manual mapmaking process to a more accurate digital one. The change has brought the company new customers, like Edison International and the California Highway Patrol, that need accurate maps quickly.

But the company's network -- made up of several Sun Microsystems workstations -- creaked and groaned with the massive files. "The network was a bottleneck," says Jim Sidaris, senior systems administrator. Cartographers had to sit and wait for data to come across the wires.

Sidaris spent several weeks rewiring the company's headquarters with a Fast Ethernet network, from Bay Networks Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif. (408-988-2400). The cost for 200 users was about $70,000; Thomas also paid about $3,000 for network-management tools. The network's greater bandwidth allows data to travel at 10 times the speed of a conventional Ethernet network, but its cost was much less than fiber optics, for example, a technology used by large companies that need extremely fast networks. Also, as the company grows, the network can too: Thomas Bros. can connect new computers to the system at any time simply by buying Fast Ethernet cards and plugging them in.

The Monday after the installation of the Fast Ethernet network was complete, the company's cartographers began calling Sidaris to report better performance. Thomas Bros. is now taking on projects on the East Coast -- confident that its system can handle the increased business.

-- Sarah Schafer