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When your customers span federal agencies, state and local governments, schools, colleges and businesses of all sizes, you come across some unique stories now and then. CDW, which was founded in 1984, is a Fortune 500 company with major clients in all segments, and it has a few stories to tell.
While giving a tour of its shipping facility to a group of technology bloggers, the tour guide mentioned some of the more unusual requests the company has received over the years. For example, as part of a contract with the military, CDW had to figure out how to package and ship IT equipment that could be dropped from airplanes in Iraq and Afghanistan and land in one piece. Talk about ruggedized IT.
At its Vernon Hills, Ill., distribution center, the company moves packages at a brisk pace. The equipment doesn’t stay at the facility for more than 30 days, unless it’s specifically being held by customer request.
“I truly enjoyed seeing behind the scenes of the fulfillment facility and seeing all of the ‘moving parts,’ literally,” said Michael Sheehan, one of the bloggers invited to the CDW Red Carpet Tour. “Apart from being amazed at the size of the facility, it was fascinating learning about the end-to-end process for receiving, stocking, fulfilling and sending all of the inventory.”
For Michael Cusanelli of the VAR Guy, another tour guest, the visit to the distribution center in Vernon Hills left him with a new appreciation for the scale of CDW’s products.
“I can't imagine how much stuff actually circulates through there on a yearly basis,” he said.
The people invited to the CDW Red Carpet Tour also spent time with CDW experts at the company’s Technology Experience Center in Woodland Falls, Ill. At the TEC, as it’s called, customers and coworkers can attend workshops or test new and emerging technology.
The center is staffed by technicians who walk visitors through all of the amazing technology in the center’s demonstration labs.
“We think of this place as a zoo,” joked CDW Demo Lab Technician John Dizon. “Me and my partners, we're sort of seen as zookeepers. Half my job is to make sure that all the animals [the IT equipment] are alive and well.”
About $4 million in hardware and software was installed at the TEC when it opened in 2012. Since then, CDW has continued to add and upgrade equipment in the facility from its various partners.
In particular, CDW has a unique relationship with Cisco Systems, which allows the company to test new products before they hit the market. That means CDW coworkers can experiment and help shape future products with their feedback.
“Whenever we get new tech in the lab, we reach out to coworkers who are relevant to rack and stack the equipment,” said Dizon.
At the end of the TEC tour, Dizon walked the guests into a server room with 7 different racks that housed various equipment from its partners. The guests were allowed to open and touch the equipment as Dizon explained the power and functionality of the servers, switches, routers and other gear.
This part of the tour particularly impressed Richard Byrne, the founder of the popular ed-tech blog Free Technology for Teachers. He enjoyed seeing the removal of the back-up tapes from the racks and the temperature control of the cooling solution.
But what was most valuable to Byrne was what he learned about CDW’s configuration services.
“I think about the configuration service when I think about how overworked IT people are in public schools,” he said. “The less you have to touch, the better.”