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Why one IT pro’s network upgrade led him from Cisco to Dell

In this Q&A, one network admin explains how rapid growth at his company prompted a massive network upgrade that included migrating from Cisco to Dell.

When the size of Jody Cantello's network more than doubled in a single year, he knew it was time to upgrade his infrastructure and re-evaluate his approach to network management. Cantello, who speaks with Network Evolution for this edition of "The Subnet," is the network infrastructure team lead at Service King Collision Repair Centers, a Texas-based chain of auto repair shops that now has more than 200 locations throughout the United States.

He is one of three people managing Service King's IT infrastructure -- a team that oversees "pretty much everything in the company that has a circuit board," says Cantello, who shares his experiences with upgrading his network, managing twice as much infrastructure, and migrating most of that equipment from Cisco to Dell Networking.

What projects are you working on now?

Jody Cantello, network infrastructure team lead, Service King Collision Repair CentersJody Cantello,
Network infrastructure
team lead,
Service King Collision
Repair Centers

Jody Cantello: We have had a lot of growth. In the last year, we've gone from 110 to 230-plus locations. A lot of those locations had older access points and older switches, so we upgraded from Cisco and Meraki onto Dell Networking so we could do everything on a single platform and to improve performance.

And then, obviously, with this many shops … we need to enable some kind of central management. We're using Dell's OpenManage Network Manager and OpenManage Essentials so we can make good use of our time. But we really haven't had a chance to [get started yet with] that because from Thanksgiving weekend to the end of January -- almost every weekend -- we had integration [work to do]. There hasn't been much time for doing that project because everything is focused on integrating new stores into our business.

Can you talk about what results you've seen?

Cantello: Overall, at the shop level, we've had better performance with the switches, since now we have a 1 gigabit backbone instead of the 100 megs we used to be on. The shops with newer technology experience less downtime, and with the use of wireless, we're looking to make it easier to manage. Before, we had issues with configuring the different access points as we rolled them out. Now, for the most part, we just plug them in and they're ready to go within minutes.

At our data center level, we've migrated away from Cisco and NetApp's FlexPod storage and compute environment to 100% Dell, using Compellent storage, and Dell servers and switches. And with that switchover, we've noticed about a five- to six-times improvement with overall performance in both networking and computing.

At the same time, it was a lower price and we got the whole setup for less than what it was going to cost to buy additional storage trays with the other option.

It sounds like you have a really distributed network. What's your biggest challenge?

Cantello: It really comes down to time. Having to manage the 230 locations and make sure everything is running efficiently--it's hard to find the time for that. That's where our project to implement the centralized management comes in, instead of [our old strategy of] hitting each device manually.

Is there one task that you try to do every day to stay organized?

Cantello: Every day when I wake up, the first thing I do is look at my phone for any email notifications from our current monitoring systems to see if any stores or systems are down. From there, I know how to prioritize my day and what to expect, so I can either work on the issue right then and there, or if it's just a minor thing that's down -- like one access point versus the whole shop -- then I know I can come in but I have to touch that as soon as I get in the office.

Presuming you weren't 5 years old and said, "I want to be a network engineer when I grow up," how did you get into the business?

Cantello: Actually, I did say that. When I was 5, my dad bought us an Adam computer for Christmas, and since then I've been fascinated with computers. I got into computer camp in elementary school and got into programming with Apple IIes. From there, it just grew. By high school, I was working with various programming languages and getting into some minor Web development.

Since then, I've worked in most aspects of IT. I worked for Compaq, where I built circuit boards, consumer PCs and their higher-end AlphaServers. After that, I was in sales for Compaq, so I kind of worked the whole chain with them. I also worked for a small mom-and-pop shop, where I started off building custom PCs, and it was there that I was initially exposed to network and PC troubleshooting. Within a few months, I was promoted to their lead tech. Then four months later, they promoted me to IT consultant -- they basically created that position and division for me so I could help our business customers meet their needs with networking, databases, Web design and overall architecture.

At that time, I really got into networking. I loved the troubleshooting part--how to find the issues. Like many network engineers, I have ADD. So once I get on a problem, I get hyper-focused on it, so troubleshooting drives that. And at my current company, about five-and-a-half years ago they bought out the company I worked with. At that time, I was managing a network of just three locations. It instantly jumped to a network of about 30 locations with the integration, and since then it's grown to 230, so every day is different. It's never boring because I'm always looking to learn about new technologies and what I can do to help myself and help my team out.

OK, now tell us: Have you ever met anyone famous? If so, what's the story?

Cantello: I think the most recent would be Charles Barkley. One of our other vendors had him at an event, so I met him there. He was talking to everybody, answering questions and taking pictures. So we talked with him for a little bit, and then it was kind of funny: My wife was posing for a picture and I was trying to take it, but I hit the wrong button on the phone and it ended up locking up. They're standing there waiting [for me to take the photo] and he says, "Is this your husband?" She goes, "Yeah." He says, "You need to find a smarter one."

Dissed by Charles Barkley--that's rough. Did you ever get the photo?

Yeah, I eventually got it!

This was last published in April 2015

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