Building Out Edge Locations

An Opengear Case Study

The Challenge

Builders FirstSource is the nation’s largest supplier of structural building products, value-added components, and services to the professional market for new residential construction, repair, and remodeling. They operate lumber yards, millworks, distribution centers, manufacturing locations and retail stores, and ensuring seamless network connectivity for business continuity across its approximately 500 US locations is critical.

Prior to adopting Opengear, Builders FirstSource used a competitive failover solution for terminal servers within the data center. They found that their system worked well for simple cellular access but was not built for reliable Out of Band (OOB) Management. Their system used a Java-based client in the web portal that had many incompatibility issues with their equipment. Greg Taylor, Lead Engineer for Builders FirstSource, explains.

“With the previous hardware, I’d have it plugged into the router and have no response on the terminal server or on the console connection even though it’s working. Then you would have to reboot the device or the router or both which, if you’re trying to fix something, is not acceptable. It’s also configured where after 15 minutes it kicks you out. Even if you’re in the middle of troubleshooting or pasting a config script, you get kicked out. Once you log back in, you have to figure out where it kicked out if you’re running a script and there’s an unacceptable amount of latency in that process.”

Finding A Solution

Builders FirstSource wanted to find something to work with their current system to take the place of the incompatible Java-based terminal services. When they began looking for a replacement for their OOB management, Greg sat down with another engineer and came up with a wish list of all the things they wanted a device to be able to do if it was out-of-band. They added things they didn’t think were possible but would be really nice to have.

They asked their VAR, 24/7 Networks, if they knew of something better for their needs. 24/7 Networks recommended Opengear, a solution that combined both Out-of-Band and reliable terminal access. So far, everything on their wish list has been accomplished by Opengear.

Greg says, “For example, we’ll have situations where we need to get firmware on a Cisco switch that has died. We discovered that you can copy the file over to a disk on the Opengear and then from there you can copy it. We were blown away that that was even a possibility.”

Another thing Greg finds valuable is the security within Lighthouse. He says, “We can do TACACS over the same Lighthouse open VPN tunnel, which is important to us. We’re not just sharing out the same username. You can still have the security that you have with your TACACS server locally on your LAN, but have that protected over the internet.”

Simple Deployment at Remote Locations

When the first Opengear unit arrived, Greg’s team tested it in the data center. They tried plugging into a variety of devices, including Aruba and Cisco switches, Silver Peak SD WAN, and Palo Alto firewalls. Greg says, “I tried unplugging and plugging, rebooting things and not once did the Opengear unit fail to respond. If something didn’t work, it was the switch itself that was broken.”

Builders FirstSource needed devices that were going to be reliable and wouldn’t require technical expertise. Greg explains, “A general manager doesn’t typically know what a console cable is.” They are transitioning from specialized Cisco roll over console cables that are shipped with every Cisco device. But if that cable gets lost then they lose access. With Opengear, they can take any straight through cable. And if the cable isn’t long enough, they can just find a longer cable or buy one at the store.

Recently, one of Greg’s colleagues was troubleshooting with the OOB management solution that they are phasing out. He had to take apart the device just to take out the SIM. That means that if it’s shipped out to a site, it’s going to be locked into whatever SIM that’s in with no IT staff available. With Opengear’s new- L series, swapping out the SIM is easy, and no configuration is needed on the Opengear side. Greg says, “I just plugged in the Verizon SIM and it called home, which is fantastic.”

SD-WAN + Smart OOB = Enterprise Grade WAN

Builders FirstSource is rolling out the SilverPeak EdgeConnect SD-WAN platform to all of its nearly 500 sites. With this roll out, Greg plans to use Opengear Smart OOB™ to prevent outages. SD-WAN routers are more sophisticated and run a larger software stack. Firmware updates are common which means that there are many more opportunities for things to go wrong, so an alternative access path is critical in case of router failure.

Greg gives an example. “I had an outage in Oklahoma and it took me about two and a half hours to fix the problem with our existing solution – we had to move equipment and find special cabling to make it work. If I had Opengear at that site, it could have fixed this in 15 minutes. From a business perspective, that downtime costs you way more than the investment to implement Opengear across the board.”

The Smart Solution

As their current devices reach end-of-life, Builders FirstSource plans to replace with Opengear in all their locations. They have installed 16 and 32 port console servers with embedded cellular access (IM7216-LMV and IM7232-LMV) in their data center. For remote locations such as their lumber yards and retail sites, they now use the Resilience Gateway with 4G-LTE access (ACM7004-2-L). They also use Lighthouse for centralized management of the entire out-of-band network.

As Greg says, “The Opengear system just works. Managing our sites from one central location is so much easier now that we can always access the equipment remotely when a problem occurs.”

Building Products Company

Builders FirstSource, Inc. is a Fortune 500 company that is a manufacturer and supplier of building materials. The company is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and is the largest supplier of building products, prefabricated components and value-added services in the US.