Thursday, December 03, 2015

3Gstore is growing, and recently we moved to a new warehouse just up the street. We’ve tripled our space and turned our new location into the ultimate product showcase. At 3Gstore we like to use the phrase ‘eat your own dog food’, meaning we are a company that uses our own products and services to run our internal operations. We’re going to take a look at all the ways we are putting the items we sell to good use every single day and how we have integrated them into critical parts of our business.
Cellular Repeater
The first thing we had to address at our new location was the cellular signal inside the building. With a larger building comes heavier construction, and that meant a lot of brick and metal to interfere with the signal. Outdoors in the parking lot we had good signal across all carriers for voice and data. Indoors however, was another story. Verizon and AT&T were usable but speed tests were slow and reliability wasn’t great. Sprint was even worse where there was LTE in the parking lot, but inside getting even a one bar 3G connection was troublesome. Of course we want our phones to function inside the building, but we also have a backup LTE connection which we’ll go over later, and reliability is critical.
The solution? We installed a cellular repeater kit. This consists of an antenna on the roof to grab the signal, cable running inside to our cellular amplifier, and a splitter with multiple interior antennas to rebroadcast the boosted signal to our devices. Because we want to be able to test different amplifiers and situations, we have two antennas on our roof. The first is a high gain directional Yagi antenna aimed at a nearby tower. The second is an omnidirectional antenna that is lower gain, but doesn’t require any aiming. We even have two cellular amplifiers installed, though we only use one at a time, again for testing purposes. The first amplifier is the new Wilson Electronics Pro 70 Plus . This has automatic gain control for simple configuration and a display letting us know the status of each supported frequency. From there we have a splitter with cables going to various locations in the warehouse. There is a dome antenna in the office where we have our backup LTE connection installed, an antenna in our conference room, one in the main hallway to cover the front offices, and a directional panel antenna to push the signal through our warehouse. The second amplifier we have is a SureCall Fusion5. This has manual gain control which we can use to boost only specific frequencies as we test new products and antenna types. Now the cell signal in the entire warehouse is as good or better than the signal we see while outside the building.
Once we solved our signal issues, the next step was to ensure we had an always on internet connection. Being an online business, every minute we are offline is serious. Our phones are VoIP and rely on an internet connection, and we can’t contact our customers by email or chat either if our connection was to go down. Our primary internet connection is cable, but having just one provider means we have a single point of failure. As a backup internet connection we have Verizon LTE. Thanks to our cellular repeater we have an excellent, and reliable signal for that to work with. For our network we have not one, but two Peplink Balance 380 routers configured in high availability mode. Our cable comes into each router simultaneously, with one Balance 380 in master mode and the other in standby. If our main router was to have a catastrophic failure, the backup would take over seamlessly with no changes to the network. Aside from a 15 second switchover time, nobody would know there was an issue.
If our internet connection or router fail, we have active backups in place ready to instantly take over and keep us online. Our entire network cabinet is connected to a battery backup, so if we were to lose power we would remain connected. That goes for our desktop computers as well, everything is on backup power ready to run in any internet or power outage.
IP Switch
If our cable connection was to fail, we automatically switch over to cellular, but we wanted to ensure the cable would come back online on its own as well. Sometimes a cable modem will lock up or disconnect, even though the ISP isn’t having widespread outages. Our cable modem is connected to the 3Gstore IP Switch. The IP switch monitors our cable modem connectivity and automatically reboots the modem when the connection is lost. After a reboot, if the internet connection remains down, the switch will continue its reboot process at intervals we have set until it is back online. Since our router will failover to LTE automatically when the cable is down, this will get us off our expensive LTE connection and back on our cable connection as fast as possible.
LTE Backup
If we are running on LTE we want that to be reliable as well. A Cradlepoint ARC CBA850 in IP passthrough mode is connected to our Balance 380 router. The CBA850 has an embedded cellular modem as opposed to using a consumer grade USB modem. USB modems have a tendency to overheat and aren’t designed for long term use. The embedded modem in the Cradlepoint will easily run 24/7 as our standby connection, or as our main connection if our primary was to drop.
WIth redundant internet connections, network hardware, and power supplies, we have to make sure that connection can be used throughout the warehouse. First, we wired Cat6 ethernet into every office, some have multiple connections for ease of use, and multiple connections into our warehouse. Each wall plate is numbered, and those numbers match our patch panel in the server so we can quickly diagnose any issues. Wired connectivity is great, but we also need reliable WiFi for the office. A Ruckus Access Point handles all of our WiFi needs and more. With the ability to handle up to 500 clients and 16 SSIDs, a Ruckus AP can suit even the most demanding high density WiFi needs. We run two networks currently, a primary and a guest network. While currently unrestricted, we could enable throttling on the guest network to prevent our primary network from becoming oversaturated with guest traffic, ensuring uptime for the critical network. A single Ruckus AP covers our entire warehouse and office area with no dead spots thanks to BeamFlex. BeamFlex automatically adjusts the WiFi antenna pattern to ensure coverage to connected devices.
As we have wrote about previously here, we are using the CloudCam extensively throughout our warehouse as well. In total we have 6 cameras. There is a camera for the parking lot, our entry way, two in our warehouse area, one for our server, and a final outdoor camera watching our loading dock. The parking lot and entry cameras as set to a circular recording to a network attached storage drive (NAS). Through the NAS we have a record of the last 15 days of recordings, accessible at any time. The other cameras are set to motion record after hours to the NAS functioning as security devices. The sever camera is set up with a momentary switch connected to the digital input on the camera. If somebody opens the door to our server cabinet, it records  the footage of that entry to so we can track access. Finally, the dock camera is there for our shipping department. They have an eyeball on the dock from anywhere in the warehouse to watch for deliveries and pickups. The outdoor camera is also set to snap a picture on motion, and we are using the NAS to send out audio alerts when a new image is taken. This is an audio cue for the warehouse team to check the loading dock camera. Because these cameras work on any internet connection, we can remotely view the cameras from the Android and iOS applications, even if the warehouse is on its backup LTE connection.