Whirlpool gives IP address management a spin

After closing its acquisition of Maytag, the home appliance manufacturer put tools in place to better manage DNS, DHCP and IP addresses across 200 locations

While Whirlpool focuses on the business of making kitchen and laundry appliances, lead network engineer Gregory Fisbeck keeps his eye on thousands of IP addresses.

With some 80,000 employees and 200 locations worldwide, Whirlpool network staff has always had its hands full managing multiple DNS zones and thousands of IP addresses. But last year's acquisition of Maytag increased Whirlpool's eight or nine DNS zones under management to some 16, shining a spotlight on a much-needed operational upgrade, Fisbeck says.

"The workload not only increased, it literally doubled, and we don't have staff dedicated solely to managing DNS and IP addresses."

IP address management -- long an IT task pushed to the back burner at many companies -- was perceived no differently at Whirlpool, Fisbeck says.

"I think a lot of people mistakenly discount the criticality of DNS," he says. "Without DNS, the Internet doesn't work. I would venture to guess without that most companies would not work so well either."

IP address logjam

Since starting at Whirlpool six years ago, Fisbeck says he had it on his agenda to update the company's approach to IP address management.

The company managed DNS using BIND servers and tracked IP addresses manually, a model which was not easily supported in a growing company, he says.

DNS is the network function that translates domain names such as www.networkworld.com into an IP address like 65.214.57.165. If DNS doesn't work properly, a user won't gain access to the Web site, and that would become a perceived network failure. For a large company like Whirlpool, DNS had to work.

"DNS is so critical to everything we do at Whirlpool that I wanted to proceed cautiously and really respect that we were messing with the core of how our network operates," he says.

According to Fisbeck, the few "master Unix" experts on staff who manage the company's BIND servers could easily become swamped with requests for IP addresses from, say, the server department. In turn, the server department would be forced to wait in line as the network team labored to dole out the addresses. Such demand and time pressure coupled with manual processes could lead to error-prone work, he says. Just recently, Fisbeck reports he spent 45 minutes fixing an error that had been inadvertently made to a BIND server that downed DNS in multiple zones and held up other departments.

"BIND is a great product that works well, but it is not easy to learn unless you are a master Unix command line worker, and today there just aren't too many of those around," he says. "We rely so much on DNS, and almost all of the DNS knowledge at this company was in the heads of two individuals, and that's kind of a scary place for it to be."

While the Maytag acquisition added work for Fisbeck and IT staff at Whirlpool corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich., the deal also resulted in upper management hearing the network team's cry for better DNS and IP address management tools.

"Around the time we were going through the acquisition, management was very eager to listen to any suggestions for products that would save us time and effort, and really streamline operations," he says.

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