New Security, More Time
to Troubleshoot"> Other problems had also cropped up. Mountain West used a Cisco Systems Inc. router as a firewall (also configured poorly, Gardarsson said) plus other software-based firewalls. None had sufficient strength or flexibility to fend off spam and spyware effectively. After evaluating Mountain Wests systems in detail, Alvaka decided to build its solution around a hardware-based firewall from SonicWall Inc.Alvaka also implemented a gaggle of content management applications it had developed in-house to handle tasks such as installing security patches or hunting for spam. The entire project took about a month, Gardarsson said. Technical challenges were few with the project, Gardarsson said. Instead, his team struggled with a simple lack of documentation for Mountain Wests self-made, often-tweaked IT system. "There was a lot of guesswork. When we put the firewall in the middle of the night, I had nothing to go by and had to discover the specifics for their server farms on my own," Gardarsson said. "But, all in all, I dont think it was that bumpy." Hartsock described the implementation as "fairly straightforward and simple," although some stress occurred when Mountain West moved the mail records for every domain it hosts to Alvakas mail servers. The improved system went live in August. Alvaka now monitors tedious chores that consumed Hartsocks time, such as patch management ("which means no more weekends spent around here," Hartsock quipped), monitoring the networks encryption key system, blocking spam, double-checking backup tapes and the like. Alvaka also researched and helped negotiate a deal with a new telecommunications carrier for Mountain West, cutting the bill for a T-1 connection. Mountain West pays Alvaka $2,200 per month for its services, Hartsock said. The return on that investment: placated customers who get a more reliable experience without session timeouts, missing e-mail messages or failed connection attempts. "We are their network, and we are their IT staff," Hartsock said. "Knowing that someone else is watching [the network] does give us a sense of security. We have to be up 24-by-7." Next up for Mountain West are new offerings such as Web-enabled applications so that mortgage officers can draw up papers online or review other documents in electronic rather than printed format. The company plans to roll out those services in the coming months, Hartsock said. "Weve been able to focus on that versus troubleshooting problems." Gardarsson frames the benefits more succinctly: "Theyll be able to work a lot faster. Efficiencies should go up, and once that goes up, then the bottom line goes up too, right?" Matt Kelly is a free-lance writer based in Somerville, Mass. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Case file
Customer Mountain West Financial
Location Redlands, Calif.
Organizational snapshot Mountain West, an ASP, delivers complex software services to small businesses in the mortgage banking industry
Business need After five years as an ASP, Mountain West found that its custom-built IT system could no longer meet customer needs; maintenance tasks overwhelmed its IT staff; the business had no time to roll out new services, while customers complained about slow network speeds, faulty spam filters and similar problems
Technology partner Alvaka Networks, a service provider for companies that cannot manage sophisticated networks alone
Recommended solution Mountain West turned over management of its network to Alvaka; Alvaka installed a new security system and a suite of content management applications, leaving Mountain Wests IT staff to spend its time developing new client services
Lessons learned Stick with what you know; Mountain West had numerous ideas for new software its mortgage banking customers would like but spent all its time on basic maintenance; by handing those chores to Alvaka, Mountain West improved its customers IT experience and gave itself more time for strategic improvements
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SonicWalls Pro 2040 firewall has several policy options administrators can impose on data packets zipping around a network, and that ability to impose security policies "gave us a lot more control over the traffic," Gardarsson said.