Managing mission-critical vendors is a challenge for every CIO and IT organization. In this segment, Adam Rasner, who manages IT infrastructure for AutoNation, the largest automotive retailer in the US., shares his advice on managing crucial vendor relationships:

Michael Krigsman: Are there metrics or KPIs? How do you go about making that evaluation?

Adam Rasner: There are hard metrics. The solution we were using previously, we were dealing with something like 6,000 backup failures a month from hardware issues, software problems. Basically, almost 60%, 70% of an FTE, a full-time employee, babysitting backup jobs to now we're dealing with a few a month, and we actually can go in and have a good understanding of what's causing those and remediate.

There are soft things that you measure and feelings that you get, and then there are hard statistics. We're winning on both ends of that.

Watch the video to learn how AutoNation manages the relationship with its critical partner, secondary storage vendor Cohesity.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: I want to introduce Adam Rasner, who is with AutoNation. Adam, how are you? Thank you for being here.

Adam Rasner: Hey, Michael. Doing great. Thanks. I'm excited to be here today and talk to you.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about AutoNation and tell us about what you do there.

Adam Rasner: Sure. AutoNation is the country's largest automotive retailer. We're made up of a couple different lines of business. We have about 300 locations made up of new car stores, preowned car stores, AutoNation USA, as well as collision centers. We also operate multiple auction houses, and then we've just launched a new line of business called AutoNation Precision Parts. We're about $22 billion in revenue. The company is growing tremendously. We're about 27,000 associates.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about your role. What do you do for AutoNation?

Adam Rasner: I'm over the infrastructure and operations team. It's basically made up of systems engineering, so data center operations, network services, operations, so change management, incident management, enterprise monitoring. We also have the end user computing team, so we basically have the whole underlying infrastructure of all the systems that run AutoNation.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about the car buying experience.

Adam Rasner: It's an industry that hasn't changed much in 50, 60 years. It's a four- to eight-hour ordeal at best, and it sometimes is painful. We think that there's a lot of technology that can be added into the process to make it easier, simpler.

We have a day in the future where we see an Amazon-like experience for buying a car. I think that's coming very, very soon.

Michael Krigsman: What are the technology elements that must be put into place in order to reach that kind of Amazon experience you were describing?

Adam Rasner: There are things that are within our control: developing software and systems that can support this kind of all electronic experience. Then there are things that are regulatory that are government challenges. In some states, they require live ink on every document to buy a car. That's going to really challenge our vision.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about what you're doing with Cohesity. What are you doing with Cohesity now?

Adam Rasner: Cohesity was brought to us by one of our value-added resellers as a really good candidate. We vetted a couple of players in that space. We did a great proof of concept with them. The beat out the other competitors in what I'm calling the next-gen category. As an added bonus, not only does it scale infinitely and easily. That was kind of a big win for us. We also now are able to use the Cohesity as a tier II storage. Applications that didn't need our most expensive SSD storage on our very expensive SANS, we were able to use Cohesity as a target.

We got this added benefit that we didn't really anticipate up front. It was really going to be an enterprise backup solution. Now, we're able to pivot and use it for other things. A very successful implementation and very happy customers.

Michael Krigsman: This type of product is completely mission critical? If you ever have a problem with your systems or your data and you can't get back to where you were, I mean the results for your business can be catastrophic. How do you evaluate trust?

Adam Rasner: If things fail during the POC process, you've lost the trust to go forward. Even though things can be fixed, you're always nervous that it's not doing what it's supposed to do. That's where I think things went really right for Cohesity and didn't go right with the competitor that we brought in.

Michael Krigsman: Are there metrics or KPIs? How do you go about making that evaluation?

Adam Rasner: There are hard metrics. The solution we were using previously, we were dealing with something like 6,000 backup failures a month from hardware issues, software problems. Basically, almost 60%, 70% of an FTE, a full-time employee, babysitting

Michael Krigsman: I want to introduce Adam Rasner, who is with AutoNation. Adam, how are you? Thank you for being here.

Adam Rasner: Hey, Michael. Doing great. Thanks. I'm excited to be here today and talk to you.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about AutoNation and tell us about what you do there.

Adam Rasner: Sure. AutoNation is the country's largest automotive retailer. We're made up of a couple different lines of business. We have about 300 locations made up of new car stores, preowned car stores, AutoNation USA, as well as collision centers. We also operate multiple auction houses, and then we've just launched a new line of business called AutoNation Precision Parts. We're about $22 billion in revenue. The company is growing tremendously. We're about 27,000 associates.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about your role. What do you do for AutoNation?

Adam Rasner: I'm over the infrastructure and operations team. It's basically made up of systems engineering, so data center operations, network services, operations, so change management, incident management, enterprise monitoring. We also have the end user computing team, so we basically have the whole underlying infrastructure of all the systems that run AutoNation.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about the car buying experience.

Adam Rasner: It's an industry that hasn't changed much in 50, 60 years. It's a four- to eight-hour ordeal at best, and it sometimes is painful. We think that there's a lot of technology that can be added into the process to make it easier, simpler.

We have a day in the future where we see an Amazon-like experience for buying a car. I think that's coming very, very soon.

Michael Krigsman: What are the technology elements that must be put into place in order to reach that kind of Amazon experience you were describing?

Adam Rasner: There are things that are within our control: developing software and systems that can support this kind of all electronic experience. Then there are things that are regulatory that are government challenges. In some states, they require live ink on every document to buy a car. That's going to really challenge our vision.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about what you're doing with Cohesity. What are you doing with Cohesity now?

Adam Rasner: Cohesity was brought to us by one of our value-added resellers as a really good candidate. We vetted a couple of players in that space. We did a great proof of concept with them. The beat out the other competitors in what I'm calling the next-gen category. As an added bonus, not only does it scale infinitely and easily. That was kind of a big win for us. We also now are able to use the Cohesity as a tier II storage. Applications that didn't need our most expensive SSD storage on our very expensive SANS, we were able to use Cohesity as a target.

We got this added benefit that we didn't really anticipate up front. It was really going to be an enterprise backup solution. Now, we're able to pivot and use it for other things. A very successful implementation and very happy customers.

Michael Krigsman: This type of product is completely mission critical? If you ever have a problem with your systems or your data and you can't get back to where you were, I mean the results for your business can be catastrophic. How do you evaluate trust?

Adam Rasner: If things fail during the POC process, you've lost the trust to go forward. Even though things can be fixed, you're always nervous that it's not doing what it's supposed to do. That's where I think things went really right for Cohesity and didn't go right with the competitor that we brought in.

Michael Krigsman: Are there metrics or KPIs? How do you go about making that evaluation?

Adam Rasner: There are hard metrics. The solution we were using previously, we were dealing with something like 6,000 backup failures a month from hardware issues, software problems. Basically, almost 60%, 70% of an FTE, a full-time employee, babysitting backup jobs to now we're dealing with a few a month, and we actually can go in and have a good understanding of what's causing those and remediate.

There are soft things that you measure and feelings that you get, and then there are kind of hard statistics. We're winning on both ends of that.

Michael Krigsman: It's funny because, backup is not the most sexy technology.

Adam Rasner: Right.

Michael Krigsman:  But it sounds like you love it.

Adam Rasner: Yeah.

Michael Krigsman: It's sexy, geeky stuff.

Adam Rasner: I can tell you. Our team never really was excited about backup, but when we finally made the decision, they said, "This is going to make our lives easier." The interface is easy to use. We were up and running very quickly. Again, they're the ones they call at 3:00 in the morning that an upgrade didn't go well and they need to revert back and restore something. Those guys have a new level of comfort that the data is going to be restored quickly, that it's not going to be corrupt, and so we're happy.

Michael Krigsman: I just have to say I'm still floored by the notion of 6,000 backup failures a month. How does that even happen?

Adam Rasner: Yeah. Without naming the vendor, we were on a hardware/software platform again that didn't scale to the size. We're over a petabyte of data, which is pretty significant. All of that data is being backed up.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for organizations that are looking to replace mission-critical systems?

Adam Rasner: Make the time investment to try it out. Installing it, seeing how it operates in your environment, and then getting a really good feel for how hard it is to deploy, what's the learning curve for your team going to be, those sorts of things.

Then there's the easier stuff, which is talking to your peers, reading the trade magazines. If you do all of that I think, at the end of the road, you should be at a place where you're relatively comfortable to make a big decision.

Michael Krigsman: Thanks so much for sharing those lessons today.

Adam Rasner: Thanks for having me, Michael. I really appreciate it.

Michael Krigsman: We have been speaking with Adam Rasner from AutoNation. Thanks so much, everybody. Have a great day. Bye-bye.