Networking

Network security and management service cleans up company's infrastructure

When a company's security was threatened by faulty infrastructure, they brought in outside help.

When I joined one company, the network and systems were in total disarray, and the company was having significant amounts of downtime. It was also outsourcing all of its desktop and network support services. Bottom line: It was a very bad situation with lots of opportunity.

I used Information Engineering, Inc., a Dynetics network security and network management services company in Huntsville, AL, to help me address several things very quickly. At the same time, I brought in an existing employee who had the right skills and experience but was being underutilized in one of the company's small divisions. I set him up to ultimately take responsibility for our infrastructure. The combination allowed us to clean up our technology act fast, while giving my employee the exposure and additional training to provide internal continuity in managing our infrastructure. The plan was to clean up the obvious issues quickly, build an infrastructure strategy that my infrastructure manager could then use to lead our efforts, and provide him with support and assistance as needed through the contracting company, Information Engineering (IE).

Here are the highlights and the approach we used and how IE fit into the scheme of things.

Situation

Going into the situation, we faced a number of problems.

  • Data center problems—server downtime, an unsecured computer center with too much traffic, junk piled everywhere with lots of dust created by two large printers, and data backup concerns
  • No e-mail service in most of the company (and this was 1999)
  • No firewall protecting the servers and no policy on Internet usage; use of third-party e-mail services, etc.
  • Wide area network service problems—too expensive, unreliable, and poor service (i.e., lots of connectivity problems and remote office downtime with long timeframes to fix the problem)
  • No main server connectivity redundancy in the network; loss of all 60 remote offices if the main connection was last
  • Desktop support—one to two days in getting response from the outside service
  • Spending 30 percent more for PCs that were inferior products with short mean time to breakage
  • No internal network management skill or experience tied to the corporate network, although there was one person with solid skills supporting a small division of the company

Plan summary

The plan we developed outlined four areas of concentration.

1. Bring in an outside group to help assess our situation and help develop and implement a plan to do the following:

  • Clean up the computer center, secure it from unauthorized traffic, and formalize a backup process that included verifying that the backups were working properly.
  • Migrate our WAN service to a less expensive and stronger telecom company and, while doing so, standardize our remote office connectivity equipment and configurations to improve remote office supportability.
  • Implement a network monitoring program to help us improve remote connectivity uptime significantly.
  • Implement e-mail services company-wide as quickly as possible.
  • Secure our infrastructure from the outside (i.e., firewalls, processes, policies, etc.).
  • Design a network architecture that provides stability and scalability and is cost effective for us.
  • Add redundancy to our corporate center connectivity to the main servers.

2. Immediately replace the outside desktop support group that also was selling us homemade PCs at a premium cost.

3. Put my employee in charge of the corporate network and give him the training and IE support necessary to manage the responsibility. Initially we looked to IE for most of our infrastructure analysis and direction, with a clear strategy of getting our IT employee to the point of managing it. He had excellent credentials and capability that had low risk in moving him into this role.

4. Set up a Help Desk to capture IT issues, to ensure response, and to track issues trends so we find out where to emphasize preventive action.

IE was instrumental in this turnaround and helped my IT team become heroes in a company where there was very little IT credibility before. The significant uptime improvement and the quick implementation of e-mail services were real winners, as I knew they would be, for the primary body of users. The fact that the cost savings in the WAN telecom migration initiative more than paid for both IE's involvement and its ongoing network monitoring services was a hit for the CFO and CEO (my boss). This positive beginning made it very easy for me to get funding for projects that needed to be done later and to add necessary IT staff to do a better job for the company.

The results

At the end of the project, we were able to realize the following results:

  • Much stronger systems stability
  • Much more stable remote office connectivity
  • E-mail service throughout the company
  • Secured systems and network environment
  • A defined network architecture and change management process that helped us grow incrementally, which is more cost effective and stable
  • Proactive network monitoring service (IE's service) that prevented downtime and responded to any downtime faster
  • Standard PC footprint with Dell that allowed us to drop ship PCs to the needed location at 30 percent less cost, with no setup requirement or shipping cost—plus the Dell PCs were much more reliable (a winner in every way you can think of)
  • Quicker response to user problems and a tracking system that gave us trends of occurrence so we were more proactive in addressing the cause of issues, rather simply responding to them (preventing fires versus fighting them)

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