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Don't overlook need for partnerships with a network vendor

Understanding the technology is simple enough, says one engineer. Building partnerships with a network vendor takes work but reaps big rewards.

In this edition of The Subnet, we catch up with Bill Dugger, senior manager of network engineering at BeachBody LLC, a fitness company based in Santa Monica, Calif., that sells home-exercise videos and whose CEO created the popular "Insanity" workout regimen.

With a network that supports 3,000 users -- most of which include partners that require access to some corporate resources -- and an IT culture that embraces emerging technologies, Dugger has found one strategy is crucial to success: fostering partnerships with a network vendor.

What's on your plate these days?

Bill Dugger: There are three main projects today. One is infrastructure virtualization, and that would cover primarily our data center. Then we also have security projects that I'd probably sum up as implementing port authentication, a company-wide security access method, 802.1x and also Micro-segmentation. And the third one would be deploying a collaboration platform.

Can you talk more about the security projects you are currently working on?

Dugger: I have architected a full infrastructure security solution using clustered Cisco ASA 5585X-60 in the data center for virtual firewall contexts to protect various application tiers and SourceFire IPS for Internet ingress/egress protection. I use Cisco ISE for wired and wireless port authentication in corporate offices and to create a sponsored guest access portal and a BYOD portal. I also use TrustSec in the data center for micro segmentation.

This project is in motion and also involves looking at our current security product platforms holistically and integrating as much as we can to automate the mitigation process. For example, a sandbox that will allow users to become security compliant if their antivirus software, malware software or patch levels are preventing them from access network resources.

What drove some of these initiatives?

Bill DuggerBill Dugger, senior manager
of network engineering,
BeachBody LLC

Dugger: When I came aboard BeachBody, I was given a clean canvas to introduce new technology to the company. Our data centers were failing, so I was really given the opportunity to build out what I would call [a] next-generation data center. The company is growing so rapidly, and the data centers really needed to be built in a manner where they could scale for at least three to five years.

Because we're growing so fast, we don't have a lot of people on board. So the idea was we needed to introduce some technologies that will allow us to offer up our infrastructure as a service. That is where the automation aspects of the infrastructure come into play. We needed technologies that could allow us to move data between our data centers -- and possibly to the cloud -- effortlessly and hopefully within an automated workflow.

That sounds complex. Is that something you have a background in?

Dugger: I do. I really started to play with virtualization in the data center and network virtualization about six years ago when I was at ABC Television. It was when virtualization in the network space was still new. The big vendors were trying to figure out how they were going to own that space.

I've stayed in the virtualization space by [working with] products like Xsigo, Cisco UCS and even Brocade. Until maybe three years ago, the real big player who came out of that space was Cisco with the UCS platform. So I've been in the space for quite some time -- doing it, watching it grow and seeing how it was going to develop over the last three to five years.

What have you learned along the way?

Dugger: I always understood that whatever platform you choose and whomever you choose [as a vendor], that they should be established somewhat in the industry and that they're going to approach it as a partnership. It shouldn't just be, 'Hey, I'm going to sell you a bunch of equipment.'

In the industry today, the platforms change so quickly, and everybody wants the latest and greatest. What I really learned is to pick a company that's established and is going to view you as a partner, and pick a technology that is going to [accommodate] some growth for you over at least a three-year period. If they can't meet at least those three requirements, then I would really think twice about choosing their technology.

Virtualization is fairly new and things are changing all the time. When you run into code problems or network problems, you want a company that's going to go the extra mile to make you successful. When you spend $3 million to $4 million on an investment, you want the company that you're investing in to be invested in you too because, at the end of the day, it makes everybody look good.

Also, one of the greatest lessons I have learned through my career is to start with a basic architecture design and make sure that your architecture lines up with how the business operates today and plans to operate in the future. The business will almost always turn a basic design into a complex one through growth, integration, application changes, adaptation or just about anything you think of that involves business in today's world. Understanding how the business operates and how the business may change in three to five years will help determine the correct technology to use and if there's a pay-as-you-grow model that you can present to the decision makers as small investments that help the business deliver in the future.

So is Cisco the main network vendor you have gone with for your data center?

Dugger: From a hardware perspective, we are primarily a Cisco shop, but we are using some of their software technologies also. From a virtualization, server virtualization and OS level, we are definitely a VMware shop. There are also integration pieces between both companies that we use today.

I used to take this approach to try to look for one solution; however, one solution doesn't necessarily work at the end of the day. Now I try to look at it more holistically. I'm a VMware shop; I'm a Cisco shop; and in storage I'm an EMC shop, so how do I make all these products work together? And what about their emerging technologies? Whether it be Cisco's VACS [Virtual Application Container Services] or VMware's NSX, a lot of things are in play.

Cisco and VMware have thousands of customers. How do you foster a 'partnership' with a virtualization vendor and a network vendor that big?

Dugger: I use a VAR [value-added reseller], and I expect that VAR to be very closely involved with Cisco. We choose partners that we feel not only can help us achieve what we need to do as a business but also have very good relationships with the large companies we're buying equipment from. We don't buy directly from Cisco, VMware or EMC, but we buy from VARs that we feel can provide us the most benefits. If I purchase storage from you and you can provide integration of that storage, then you're going to be more successful in getting me to where I need to be -- rather than you just being a reseller that has no integration or engineering path.

I have very good relationships with EMC, VMware and Cisco, and I expect every VAR [I work with] to have that same relationship. We have meetings and we talk -- I talk to Cisco, I talk to our VARs -- and it's a very important part of being successful in some of these technologies we're implementing today.

Do you think taking the time to build those relationships with a network vendor is a part of the job that IT pros often overlook?

Dugger: I do. When I came aboard at BeachBody, I made it very clear to Cisco, EMC and to any one of the big companies we use that we understand how your technology works, we know it fits into our environment, and I can make the decisions on that aspect of it. That isn't necessarily the hardest part. The hardest part is making sure we're all communicating so that when I have a problem, you show up and get me fixed as fast as possible. Fostering those relationships is probably one of the best things that happened to BeachBody because we get faster resolution on problems that we have.

I've been at companies before where the approach was, 'We'll use six different ISPs for our WAN links.' But when you do that, you tell those companies, 'I don't trust you enough to allow you to be my partner.' So when things go wrong, why is that company going to want to show up? At BeachBody, we had four or five different ISPs when I came in, so I said, 'Look, all we really need is two solid ISPs. You may pay a little bit more in the end, but what you get as a result of that is a partnership with an ISP.' Now we have two ISPs, and we know that since we're using a lot of their solutions -- whether it's for voice or connectivity to other partners -- they show up when I have a problem. I get the attention I need to get things fixed and back on track.

Tell me about your career path. How did you get into IT and networking?

Dugger: I started off 25 years ago as a telephone technician. Through that, I got hired by a guy that had opened up his own telephone shop when AT&T split up. I got into networking when 10-meg Ethernet hit the market and started getting installed in small offices. I started doing small LAN builds.

Later, I got a job at a hospital as their telephone/LAN guy. I had to pull out an entire token ring network. I applied for a job in the helpdesk at the hospital and started at the desktop with Windows 3.1 or 3.2 and moved up to Windows 95, got MCSC trained, and moved into the server space right when Microsoft NT 4.0 was fighting Novell for supremacy in that client/server space. NT, of course, won. At the same time, I also took over their Cisco network on the CAT 5000 platform.

Then I went to a startup company in 2000 and built out a national network across the United States and had the good fortune to spend seven months working side-by-side with a CCIE. At the time, I think he was No. 1002 or something like that -- and from there networking was my thing.

Virtualization, data center and enterprise architecture stuff is kind of where I'm at now. I'm a senior manager of network engineering, but I'm more of an enterprise data center and security architect. I wear a lot of hats here.

Final question: What's your favorite sports team?

Dugger: My favorite sports team is the Los Angeles Kings. I've been a Kings fan for quite a while, and one of the things I love about the Kings is this: Being a Kings fan for such a long time, I got to see them grow up and finally make it to the championship and explode and go on to win two [Stanley] Cups in my lifetime.

To be very honest with you, I can look at the Kings and it's a perfect [metaphor for] some of the battles I've had in my career to end up where I am today. I just find a lot of inspiration in growing up with the Kings, being so devastated when they lost the first Stanley Cup they appeared in and then watching them win two in three years. I think it's just phenomenal. I feel like that type of journey is almost similar to how my journey through the IT industry has been and where I am today. I feel like I'm at the apex of my career, and watching them win two Stanley Cups while I was here at BeachBody is awesome.

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This was last published in October 2015

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