Network refresh: Look at your needs, not the name on the box

In this Q&A, one networking pro shares why he and his team broke from their existing vendors during a network refresh and went with a new roster for their routers and switches.

In this edition of The Subnet, we catch up with Carsel Bester, network administrator at Triton Management Services LLC, an affiliate of Aladdin Bail Bonds, a company that provides bail bond services for pre-trial defendants in California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Washington.

When it came time for a data center and network refresh, Bester and the rest of Triton's IT team didn't just hand over a blank check to their existing roster of vendors. They scrutinized their current needs and evaluated the various options in the market, arriving at a totally different vendor line-up.

What are you working on now?

I am in the middle of a server room refresh and a refresh on all our equipment in the data center as well. We're actually beginning to implement everything: new core router, new switches, new servers and new storage. I think we're scheduled to be done somewhere around Q3 next year.

We've already started the networking refresh at our corporate office. Currently, we have a Cisco ASA 5510 as an edge router, and our switches are Brocade's SX series. Moving forward, our core router will be Palo Alto, and for the switches, we moved from Brocade to Juniper.

Why the change in vendors for your network refresh?

We felt that the platform Juniper proposed fit us better, and I think most of the team wanted to explore different vendor options. And out of the box, Juniper had a lot of nice tools in it that everybody felt we were interested in using on our network. We don't so much worry about what vendor we're using. We just want to use whatever fits our need at the time.

What's your top priority for the network?

Carsel BesterCarsel Bester

Uptime -- we don't want to have any outages. We're a 24/7 shop, so we can't have a lot of downtime.

Our offices are open 24 hours a day because we serve bail bondsmen, and we need to be able to service customers whenever they need us. We try to create a network with redundancy in place so we can do maintenance with minimal downtime. Sometimes you just can't avoid that situation, depending on the upgrade.

What's your biggest challenge on the job?

With all the tools you have, it's hard to sometimes pinpoint what's wrong when you get a call saying the network is slow. That a general assessment, but then you have to troubleshoot and figure out what's going on. You're pretty much only as good as the tools you have. Now we're trying to find a monitoring suite that gives us all the visibility we need into what kind of traffic's going through -- something that will tell me, from endpoint to endpoint, what application was slow, where within the application that the slowness occurred, and why. Is the tool just going to tell me something's slow? Or is it going to tell something's slow because there was a memory error on this server at this time?

Visibility is definitely one of the biggest challenges, because sometimes you can't find the tools you need all in one suite. There's always one data point that it doesn't show. Maybe it shows almost everything you need, but another vendor might do it better or give you more a little bit more detail.

And then, at a certain point, you need a tool to manage your tools.

Exactly. We're going through that right now, actually. We're looking at network monitoring tools that we're going to use moving forward.

So, how did you get into IT?

I'm originally from New Orleans but I moved to California when I was in 8th grade. I don't know why, but for whatever reason, I was put in a programming class when I got there. I don't even remember the language we were taught, but I know I typed a whole bunch of [keys], or it felt like a whole bunch, and pushed a button and watched it create a sentence. That got my curiosity going.

Once I graduated from high school, I went straight to a computer college. I think I was about 17 or 18 years old, but I dropped out of college and ended up working at a corporate office in a mailroom. One of the IT guys came in and fixed our computer in the mailroom, and I was like, "Oh, that's what I want to do," because it just looked cool. I think either that day or that week, I went back to school, finished what I had started and graduated. I ended up getting promoted into the IT department at that company, and I worked there for 10 years. When I left, I was a network engineer.

What attracted you to networking?

I tried programming, and it just wasn't very fun. I enjoy the hands-on piece of networking. With networking, you have to wear multiple hats. It's not like you can just do networking only; you have to do everything. So I get the whole picture, including the front-end user, server and application. For me, it's just a little more fulfilling.

Here's our rotating pop culture question: Who's your favorite superhero and why?

Superman for sure.  One reason is that's the earliest memory I have of going to movies. I could go to a showing and watch it over and over again. I was like, 'Let's watch it again! Let's watch it again!' And my grandfather, we'd be in the movie theater for like three or four hours -- no, more than that -- after three rounds of watching Superman.

I just like him, you know? He's Superman.

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