Networking

An IT manager in Kenya skirts obstacles to set up VPN

TechRepublic member Dominic M. Ndegwah, an IT manager in Nairobi, called on his creativity to set up a VPN in Kenya and Tanzania. Here's how he solved the infrastructure problems inherent in his underdeveloped country.


Recently we asked TechRepublic members to tell us about their experiences with virtual private networks.

In this article, Dominic M. Ndegwah, a computer executive at the Lion of Kenya Insurance Co. Ltd. in Nairobi, Kenya, describes how he solved both software and hardware problems to establish VPN connections with the company’s branch offices and a subsidiary company. Ndegwah explains how he developed a creative VPN solution to overcome a lack of resources in Kenya. Ndegwah wins a TechRepublic polo shirt for submitting the most unusual VPN solution.

Lion of Kenya Insurance Co. is a medium-sized general insurance underwriter. The headquarters is in Nairobi, where the company has about 90 employees. The company has one branch office in Mombasa city about 550 km (about 342 miles) away.

Sponsored by
NetScreen is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on VPNs and Firewalls. For more information, check out TechRepublic's VPN and Firewall Center, or visit NetScreen's website.

NetScreen is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on VPNs and Firewalls. For more information, check out TechRepublic's VPN and Firewall Center, or visit NetScreen's website.

The company also operates a subsidiary—Lion of Tanzania Insurance—with headquarters in the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and branches in Arusha and Mwanza.

Ndegwah’s report from Kenya
The situation before VPN
Here’s what I was working with at Lion of Kenya:
  • Lion of Kenya has an old IBM AS/400 (Advanced model) on which we run some in-house developed and maintained insurance applications.
  • The AS/400 has 25 terminals distributed to various departments.
  • There are about 20 PCs, but these are mainly stand-alone. Two of the PCs are linked to the AS/400 using a 5250 emulation adaptor.
  • Transactions from the city of Mombasa and from Lion of Tanzania are mailed daily for data entry on the AS/400!



Our priority has been focused on connecting the subsidiary and all branches, but traditional connections—direct telephone lines—are very expensive and complicated.

Ndegwah’s solution
With my limited knowledge of VPN, I started by searching for more information about VPN, finding help and information on TechRepublic.

Here is what we did:
  • First, we installed an Ethernet adaptor for the AS/400, and then we got one PC on which we installed Microsoft Windows NT and two network cards.
  • I configured one card to connect to the AS/400, and I installed Client Access for AS/400 on the PC.
  • The other card I used to connect directly to an ISP—Swift Global Kenya—which assigned me a unique IP address. I was able to use the PC as an AS/400 terminal and also to access the Internet.
  • I configured the remote access protocols for 10 clients as necessary.

I then went to the Mombasa branch, where I configured the VPN solution as follows:
  • I set up a dial-up account with an ISP.
  • I set up a VPN dial-up to my unique IP address.
  • I installed the AS/400 client access software.

After connecting to the ISP, I was able to connect the VPN and then connect to the AS/400.

I have done the same for Dar es Salaam and Arusha. I'm working on speed improvements and security. I'm also setting up networks for at least three other locations to allow more users to access the solution.
TechRepublic is featuring a series of articles on this topic in every Republic this month. If you'd like more information on security or productivity issues relating to VPNs, click here.
Project update
Ndegwah recently spoke to TechRepublic and updated us on his VPN project.

He has increased the speed of his Internet connection with a direct connection to his ISP. He also has improved security on his VPN by using a product from F-Secure that includes a VPN security program.

In the future, Ndegwah hopes to build a wireless VPN connection to his database so that insurance agents in the field can check from an accident scene to see if any of the vehicles involved are insured by his company.

“We have ideas,” he said. “We don’t have the resources.”

His ideas also depend upon the National Telephone Corporation having the capabilities to support the wireless network he envisions for Lion of Kenya. Even that might not hold Ndegwah back, if he can find a way around that obstacle.

“We belong to the Third World,” Ndegwah said. “We’ve got to be creative.”
Ndegwah has his VPN solution up and running in Kenya and Tanzania, and he plans to continue improvements. What do you think he should do next? How would you prioritize his list of improvements for speed, security, and accessibility? Make your suggestions below or send us a note.
Recently we asked TechRepublic members to tell us about their experiences with virtual private networks.

In this article, Dominic M. Ndegwah, a computer executive at the Lion of Kenya Insurance Co. Ltd. in Nairobi, Kenya, describes how he solved both software and hardware problems to establish VPN connections with the company’s branch offices and a subsidiary company. Ndegwah explains how he developed a creative VPN solution to overcome a lack of resources in Kenya. Ndegwah wins a TechRepublic polo shirt for submitting the most unusual VPN solution.

Lion of Kenya Insurance Co. is a medium-sized general insurance underwriter. The headquarters is in Nairobi, where the company has about 90 employees. The company has one branch office in Mombasa city about 550 km (about 342 miles) away.

Sponsored by
NetScreen is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on VPNs and Firewalls. For more information, check out TechRepublic's VPN and Firewall Center, or visit NetScreen's website.

NetScreen is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on VPNs and Firewalls. For more information, check out TechRepublic's VPN and Firewall Center, or visit NetScreen's website.

The company also operates a subsidiary—Lion of Tanzania Insurance—with headquarters in the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and branches in Arusha and Mwanza.

Ndegwah’s report from Kenya
The situation before VPN
Here’s what I was working with at Lion of Kenya:
  • Lion of Kenya has an old IBM AS/400 (Advanced model) on which we run some in-house developed and maintained insurance applications.
  • The AS/400 has 25 terminals distributed to various departments.
  • There are about 20 PCs, but these are mainly stand-alone. Two of the PCs are linked to the AS/400 using a 5250 emulation adaptor.
  • Transactions from the city of Mombasa and from Lion of Tanzania are mailed daily for data entry on the AS/400!



Our priority has been focused on connecting the subsidiary and all branches, but traditional connections—direct telephone lines—are very expensive and complicated.

Ndegwah’s solution
With my limited knowledge of VPN, I started by searching for more information about VPN, finding help and information on TechRepublic.

Here is what we did:
  • First, we installed an Ethernet adaptor for the AS/400, and then we got one PC on which we installed Microsoft Windows NT and two network cards.
  • I configured one card to connect to the AS/400, and I installed Client Access for AS/400 on the PC.
  • The other card I used to connect directly to an ISP—Swift Global Kenya—which assigned me a unique IP address. I was able to use the PC as an AS/400 terminal and also to access the Internet.
  • I configured the remote access protocols for 10 clients as necessary.

I then went to the Mombasa branch, where I configured the VPN solution as follows:
  • I set up a dial-up account with an ISP.
  • I set up a VPN dial-up to my unique IP address.
  • I installed the AS/400 client access software.

After connecting to the ISP, I was able to connect the VPN and then connect to the AS/400.

I have done the same for Dar es Salaam and Arusha. I'm working on speed improvements and security. I'm also setting up networks for at least three other locations to allow more users to access the solution.
TechRepublic is featuring a series of articles on this topic in every Republic this month. If you'd like more information on security or productivity issues relating to VPNs, click here.
Project update
Ndegwah recently spoke to TechRepublic and updated us on his VPN project.

He has increased the speed of his Internet connection with a direct connection to his ISP. He also has improved security on his VPN by using a product from F-Secure that includes a VPN security program.

In the future, Ndegwah hopes to build a wireless VPN connection to his database so that insurance agents in the field can check from an accident scene to see if any of the vehicles involved are insured by his company.

“We have ideas,” he said. “We don’t have the resources.”

His ideas also depend upon the National Telephone Corporation having the capabilities to support the wireless network he envisions for Lion of Kenya. Even that might not hold Ndegwah back, if he can find a way around that obstacle.

“We belong to the Third World,” Ndegwah said. “We’ve got to be creative.”
Ndegwah has his VPN solution up and running in Kenya and Tanzania, and he plans to continue improvements. What do you think he should do next? How would you prioritize his list of improvements for speed, security, and accessibility? Make your suggestions below or send us a note.

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