What Retail Networking can learn from the Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby is an annual tradition of young boy scouts around the world, where they build motorless racecars from a block of wood and become pit crew chiefs for an evening of grand prix excitement. I recently helped my son build his very first pinewood derby car. Together, we picked out the design, cut out the block, sanded and painted it. After a good amount of effort, I dare say our car — which was more of a custom truck — looked pretty sweet, especially since we had made it from a rectangular chunk of wood with really no guide other than a picture of something similar found on the Internet.

When it came time to put the wheels on the truck, I decided it was time to take over and make it as fast as possible within the rules. I made a stop at our local hobby shop where I found pre-polished axles and some graphite powder lubrication, both of which promised to send my boy’s pinewood truck straight to the podium. I snatched them up and headed for the check-out counter.

After waiting in line behind one other customer for 10 minutes, it was finally my turn to pay. Now, I pride myself in my fiscal responsibilities, so one can imagine my shock when the clerk handed back my card and asked for a second form of payment, citing a decline from the credit card company. In the confusion, I offered a second card only to have it be declined as well. At this point, the store owner happened to walk by as I asked the reason for the declines, which made him stop and check the register. As I suspected, the declines weren’t my fault. Instead, it was a retail owner’s worst nightmare — his network connection had failed and he was now unable to process my, or any other credit card. The owner scurried off to see if he could figure out what went wrong with his network muttering something about losing a half an hour of his time in the middle of the day.

How an Opengear solution with Failover to Cellular™ could have saved the day.

Regardless of the size of a retail shop, troubleshooting a network connection issue is the last thing a store manager wants — or should be asked — to do. All too often, the store manager simply calls a centralized support group and then acts as their remote hands and eyes as they manually cycle power on routers or firewalls and report the status. But wouldn’t it be nice if the store manager could be cut completely out of the loop, left to do what they do best?

With an Opengear device, such as an ACM5508-2-Lx-I, serially connected to the in-store networking equipment, this is a reality. As soon as the primary network goes down, the Opengear device starts performing a variety of actions. First, the Opengear device automatically and transparently fails over to a cellular connection so the retail business can resume as if nothing ever happened. In truth, the secondary cellular connection ensures that for customers and employees alike, nothing has happened.

At the same time, Opengear’s Smart OOB™ kicks in sending off SMS alerts to the centralized support group — or business owner’s tech guy — alerting them of the outage and informing them of critical out-of-band network information such as the IP address of the Opengear device where they can establish a VPN connection and access CLIs of any networking equipment connected to the Opengear unit. Automated responses may already be cycling power on affected devices or performing any number of pre-configured actions depending on the fault detected. By the time the out-of-band connection is established between support and the Opengear device, remedial action is well underway and the network is significantly closer to returning to normal operating conditions — all with no noticeable interruption to customers or employees.

Once support has performed any remedial actions — anywhere from simply cycling power on a locked-up router to completely re-configuring a device from an IOS image stored locally on the flash storage of the Opengear unit — the primary Internet connection is gracefully restored with a transparent fail-back.

In case you were wondering about my in-store experience, out of pure coincidence, I happened to have just enough cash in my wallet to pay for my transaction and leave. But it truly was a coincidence as I am like most people today who tend to rely more and more on plastic cash than the paper version. As for the race? Let’s just say that Opengear is much better at making out-of-band management solutions than I am at making chunks of pine go fast.