Cenegenics Builds Resilient Cisco Network to Support Its Growing Practice

It is easier to have just one specific vendor, especially for the switching gear, because there is a lot you have to worry about.”
– Dror Nisenbaum, IT Manager, Cenegenics

Pressures of Growth on IT

Dror Nisenbaum, IT Manager at Cenegenics, clearly remembers his first day of work. He arrived at eight o’clock in the morning, sat down and the phone rang before he could take the first sip of coffee. It was a disgruntled user who had been waiting a month to fix an IT problem. Nisenbaum walked him through a solution right there on the phone. The user was pleasantly surprised and relieved, while for Nisenbaum it was a not-so-subtle hint of the road ahead. In fact, after spending four intense months working through the IT support backlog, he turned his attention to the challenge of redesigning and rebuilding the network and other IT infrastructure to support the company’s fast growth.

Cenegenics, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the largest age management practice with 20 medical centers in the United States serving more than 20,000 patients. Age management emphasizes prevention, as opposed to treating disease, and employs nutrition, exercise, supplements and hormone treatment under the care of a physician to maximize the quality of life for its patients as they age. Cenegenics is well known for ads showing one of its physicians, Dr. Jeff Life, a 72-year old man with the toned body of a youthful muscle builder.

Cenegenics experienced many years of rapid growth. From 2006 to 2012, it expanded from 3 medical centers in Las Vegas, Boca Raton and the Carolinas to 20 medical centers throughout the United States. The number of corporate staff at its headquarters in Las Vegas quadrupled. By any measure, the practice was successful and growing.

However, the expansion and growth put a strain on its aging IT infrastructure. Ten years ago, Cenegenics had a flat network with HP equipment supporting its users and applications. They added a voice over IP (VOIP) system. The VOIP provider installed Cisco networking equipment with power over Ethernet (POE) support, so they had two networks connected via uplinks, one for data and the other for voice. Unfortunately, the features and configurations were inconsistent and many problems arose. Phones did not power up if connected to the HP switches, and computers would not acquire the right IP addresses if connected to the Cisco switches. There were many dropped calls because the HP switches did not support QoS. Data storms flared up on a couple of occasions because of misconfigurations between the networks. The IT contractor who managed Cenegenic’s network was an HP reseller trained to support HP networking equipment, but not Cisco. They had to manufacture artificial phone problems and call the VOIP provider to get Cisco support. “It was very difficult. It was the perfect storm,” said Nisenbaum.

After the support backlog was finally under control and response times were reasonable, Nisenbaum focused on diagramming and labeling the entire network, including switches, cables, distribution points and servers. “I had to redo all of the wiring closets because it looked like a spaghetti ball,” he said. The jumble of cables and switches was so confusing they resorted to pulling cables after business hours and walking to the adjacent suite to see which device turned off. The result of the effort was a diagram that provided a comprehensive view of the infrastructure and identified the single points of failure.

Building a Consolidated, Highly Resilient Network

Next they developed a plan for a consolidated, highly-available, virtualized infrastructure. It included two Cisco Catalyst 3560-X switches as the core of the network and a Cisco 3945 Integrated Services Router to replace a SonicWALL router and one other that were too small for the expanded user load. The two 3560-X switches had redundant power supplies and were paired up for failover. Six existing Cisco Catalyst 3560s would serve as edge switches. Connections around the headquarters building would have four strands trunked in pairs to make a redundant fiber ring. Pipes between suites in the building would carry not more than one fiber optic cable to eliminate the risk of a severed pipe disrupting communication. The design also included three powerful Dell servers with dual six-core processors running VMware and a Dell EqualLogic iSCSI SAN with dual controllers connected via the 3560-X core switches.

Nisenbaum felt strongly that the network should be consolidated on Cisco equipment, not a mixed-vendor environment. “It is easier to have just one specific vendor, especially for the switching gear, because there is a lot you have to worry about,” he said. Nisenbaum is Cisco-certified and very comfortable using their equipment. Though he had some experience with HP and SonicWALL equipment, he thought some of their configuration procedures were unnecessarily complicated. “Having multiple vendors brings so much complexity… I wanted to consolidate everything to one vendor, so I can train my employees and make sure the team we have in place can manage it all.”

The plan was presented to Cenegenics’ executive board. The project cost was in the six figures, a substantial investment for a company of that size. Nisenbaum’s approach was to show them all the points of failure in their existing infrastructure. “If any of these devices goes down, this is the catastrophic effect. How much is it going to cost you per day if this doesn’t work? That was my pitch. I came in six months after one of their servers crashed and they were down for almost a week. What I was saying was very fresh in their minds,” he said. The board decided to approve and fund the project.

I can sum it up with one statement:  I can sleep at night.”
– Dror Nisenbaum

Uptime Makes Everyone Happy

Installation of the new equipment took four months because some aspects of the transition had to be handled carefully to avoid disrupting users. Today the company’s applications and users run on the rebuilt and highly resilient network as well as server and storage infrastructure. It has been 16 months since a server went down. While individual components have failed and had to be replaced, such as a GBIC on a switch, the redundancy of the design ensured that users did not experience downtime. Executives and staff are pleased because they can focus on running the practice and serving patients with a stable IT infrastructure supporting them.

Asked about how he feels about the situation now, Nisenbaum replied, “I can sum it up with one statement: I can sleep at night. When I had all the aging hardware and there was such a support backlog, I didn’t have a personal life. Now that things have slowed down, it gives me the ability to see how I can improve Cenegenics as a whole.”

AIT_Profiles_Blogocon_small

 Copyright © 2012 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Grigg Brothers Turns to VOIP Service from ATC to Reduce Phone Costs and Improve Communication

I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.
– Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information, Grigg Brothers

Toward a Streamlined Phone System

Grigg Brothers wanted to streamline and consolidate its corporate phone system. Its existing system was an assortment of phone lines and services for its headquarters and operational office in southern Idaho and seven branch offices around the U.S. Each office in Idaho supported several employees. Most of the branch offices where field technical reps were based had two phone lines – one for voice and another for fax – plus an Internet connection and mobile phone. “Communications and technology can be a big line item on the budget,” said Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information. “The reps were turning in expense reports with fax numbers and landlines and mobile lines, and I said, this is too much. This can be considerably more condensed. I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.”

Grigg Brothers is a manufacturer and wholesaler of specialty fertilizers for the turf grass industry, including golf courses and sports fields. The company’s flagship products are liquid foliar fertilizers that are absorbed through the leaf tissue of a plant instead of through the roots. Nutrients applied in this way are almost fully absorbed, even during stressful times like summer heat, and create healthier turf. Grigg Brothers’ foliar fertilizers are also more environmentally friendly because they avoid toxic soil buildup, leaching and runoff.

In 2005, when Jared Grigg first started considering options for a new phone system, the owners of the company expressed skepticism about voice over IP (VOIP). They wondered whether it was mature and robust enough to support a business. Because of this and his prior experience managing a Nortel Meridian phone system, Grigg decided to focus more intently on traditional key telephone systems. He dialogued extensively with a local reseller, received several proposals and even proposed a system to the board of directors. The system offered greater flexibility and better features, but ultimately the directors turned it down because the cost was higher than what they were already paying and exceeded the technology budget.

Meanwhile VOIP technology was improving and gaining acceptance in the market. “I decided to look at the cloud again because more and more solutions were becoming available,” he said.

His first step was to deploy an Internet fax service. This service automatically converted incoming faxes to PDF format and sent them by email to the recipients. Everyone in the company received a new fax number. Technical reps who spent much of their time traveling could receive faxes immediately on their PC instead of waiting until they came back to the office. Outgoing faxes could be scanned in to a PC and emailed to the fax service for delivery. The electronic fax service cost considerably less than the dedicated fax lines it replaced.

A Serendipitous Opportunity

In 2007, ATC Communications, the Internet and phone service provider for Grigg Brothers headquarters, acquired a VOIP solution provider called Nextphone. Here Grigg saw an opportunity. One of his concerns with a VOIP solution was that if a problem arose, the VOIP provider might blame the Internet service provider and vice-versa, leaving the user caught in the middle. “If I went down this road, if I backed ATC with their new acquisition, then they would be responsible regardless of whether it was a phone problem or an Internet connectivity problem,” he said.

The ATC Nextphone service had the features they were looking for:

  • Hosted IP phone service that all offices around the U.S. could access over an Internet connection
  • Programmable “find me, follow me” feature for incoming calls that can, for instance, simultaneously ring a desk phone and cell phone, or one then the other, before going to voice mail
  • Four-digit dial connecting everyone in their geographically distributed organization as if they were in the same building
  • Internet fax service with solid features and technical support
  • Unified messaging that sends voice mails and faxes to a user’s email inbox
  • Conferencing capabilities so Grigg Brothers can set up and control its own conference calls
  • Web portal for centralized programming and administration
  • Automatic call routing to cell phones in case of local power outage
  • Significantly lower cost than their existing phone system

This set of capabilities combined with Grigg Brothers’ established relationship with ATC made it attractive. “It was the perfect solution,” said Grigg. The company deployed Nextphone across all its locations. Branch offices received Linksys PAP2T Internet Phone Adapters. To access the new phone service, they only needed to connect the adapter to the Internet and plug in any standard telephone handset. If a technical rep preferred to rely exclusively on a cell phone, the system could be programmed to route all incoming calls there. The company also standardized on Google Apps Premier, so users can access email, voice mail and faxes anywhere using a Web browser.

Headquarters initially experienced intermittent call quality problems, much to Grigg’s chagrin, though his strategy of using the same VOIP and Internet service provider proved advantageous. Grigg was concerned that VOIP would get a black eye because the owners were already apprehensive. But he believed the hosted service was solid and worked with ATC to address the underlying network quality issue. While on the verge of deploying a second DSL at headquarters and a dedicated switch for the phone system, ATC offered to try boosting the bandwidth of the existing Internet connection. “It automatically improved. I have not had a single problem since the day they did that,” he said.

In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms.”
– Jared Grigg

Less Costly and Easier to Support

As a result of switching to VOIP, overall communication costs fell by more than 40% in the first 12 months and have remained level. At the same time, the company streamlined the number of phone lines and points of contact and improved its ability to communicate and collaborate.

Grigg is also pleased that he spends much less time supporting this new phone system. He uses the Nextphone web portal to handle routine administration and support requests. In fact, the company’s entire IT infrastructure is set up for centralized, remote administration. “In my office I have several computers and monitors in a semicircle around me, and I am remotely connected to every single asset in the company – all desktop computers, all laptops and even some cell phones as we move to smarter phones. In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms,” he said.

Soft Phones for International Roaming

More recently the company started using soft phones for placing calls when outside the U.S. to expensive international roaming charges. Soft phone software runs on PCs and smart phones such as iPhone and Android. It lets users place phone calls through that device over the Internet as if they were at their office desk. It is another way Grigg Brothers is using VOIP to keep down communication costs.

AIT_Profiles_Blogocon_small

 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.