Scotts Miracle-Gro has been spreading a special kind of IT fertiliser on its WAN links through data compression technology that keeps transfer rates high even as branch servers are eliminated.

Scotts deployed Cisco's Wide Area Application Engine appliances and Wide Area Application Services software in four remote locations five months ago, said Larry Loeper, vice president of global enterprise infrastructure. And later this year, the company plans to expand the use of the products for many other locations, including 58 recently-acquired retail stores, Loeper said. In all, Scotts has about 5,000 employees in 500 global branch offices.

Because Scotts wanted to reduce the potential for data loss and management headaches associated with branch file and print servers, it decided to start eliminating those servers, establishing instead fast links to its US data centres in Ohio and Pittsburgh, he said.

With the Cisco appliances and software, transfer times to the Marysville site dropped from 60 seconds to six seconds, eliminating the need to purchase more T3 links for added bandwidth, Loeper said. "This technology is giving us the same results as a T3 at a tenth of the cost," he said.

Weekly reports transferred from branch locations used to take eight hours to transfer, and now take a quarter as long, Loeper added.

Scotts would not disclose the cost of the added Cisco gear and related expenses, but said it will pay for itself in less than 14 months. They said using Cisco gear made sense for them to deploy because of the other Cisco-related networking products already in use.

Tom Gibson, client executive for Scotts' outsourcer, Affiliated Computer Services in Dallas, said six WAN optimisation vendors were evaluated, but Cisco had the most complete vision for how to handle the problems Scotts faced. Neither he nor Scotts would name the other vendors.

WAN optimisation technology is catching on with many larger companies with wide area networks, but it is new enough that it was challenging for a company like Scotts to consider, said Bill Waszak, Scotts CIO.

"We're not a bank or insurance company, and we do not typically jump out on the leading edge technology, and stay one step behind," Waszak said. "When it takes, however, we jump out and do it, and this was one of those times. It was the right product at the right time."