Brad Koester, vice-president of IT, Republic Metals Corp.
Brad Koester, vice-president of IT, Republic Metals Corp.

ROUND ROCK, Tex. – When Brad Koester arrived at Republic Metals Corp. four years ago as the new vice-president of information technology, from an IT perspective he says the company was in the Stoneage. Today, it has two data centres and a completely virtualized infrastructure.

If you’ve ever send your old gold jewelry off in the mail for a cheque, it may have ended up at a Republic Metals foundry. Not directly, but they provide refining services for customers with precious metals such as gold, silver and palladium. They’re based in Miami, but also have a Toronto office.

Koester told a recent Dell media tour of the ProSupport facilities that when he came onboard to professionalize the Republic IT infrastructure, he was nearly starting from scratch.

“They were in the stone age,” said Koester. “They used Sneakernet. There was no centralized storage, not much security, and you could almost set your clock by the daily network outages.”

The first year was spent building a data centre to centralize the IT infrastructure – one server had lived in the hallway outside an executive’s office – and training users on how to take better advantage of technology. Today, he has added a West Coast data centre to back up their first one in Miami, and have built a 100 per cent virtualized infrastructure based on Dell Equallogic at the primary data centre and Compellent at the disaster recovery site.

It took time to get there though, said Koester, but Dell solutions were a big help.

“I started with an assessment of the current state using Dell Kace, my engineer in a box,” said Koester, who says he was told he could hire an engineer, but joked he knew the system management tool wouldn’t talk back. “(With Kace) I can deploy, script all my repetitive tasks, and really get my arms around the environment.”

Once the data centre was up, Koester moved the company from Microsoft Excel and paper to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system – Microsoft Dynamics NAV. They also moved to Microsoft Office 365 from Google Apps, largely because it was easier to manage the licenses.

Republic Metals also recently did a refresh of its network recently, dumping Meraki (bought before the Cisco acquisition) for Dell switches.

“Meraki made sense for a small company, but then Cisco changed the licensing,” said Meraki. “The new network is stable, easy to manage, and the cost of instillation and support for three years is the same as one year’s license for Meraki.”

Now, Koester and an IT team of three manages an environment with two data centres, about 50 office workers that primarily use thin clients, and executives with “real laptops.” One particularly tough environment is the Miami foundry. It’s high heat and humidity, and filled with corrosive materials – it’s an unforgiving environment for technology. Koester moved the foundry to zero clients using VMware View to get rid of computers at the foundry.

Koester also uses Dell ProSupport to help him manage the Republic Metals data centres.

“It’s nice having those eyes,” said Koester. “The SAN will call home if there’s a problem, and send out parts if needed.”

The foundry runs 24 hours a day, every day except Sundays, and recently the storage array went down when a controller failed, halting production.

“Before I could call Dell, they called me to let me know controller failed,” said Koester. We did some base troubleshooting and found we needed to swap part. The nearest part Dell could locate was in Atlanta. They notified be they couldn’t meet the four-hour service level agreement but I got updates every 30 minutes with where the courier was, when he got to the data centre, and when the controller was installed and running. Dell ProSupport went above and beyond to make sure it was back up.”

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