In the booming real estate market, Shorewood Realtors cant afford to have its network go bust. Thats why the Los Angeles-based realtor has outsourced all network operations to Praxis Computing, a local Cisco Systems Inc. solutions provider.
Over the past 10 years, Praxis has built and managed Shorewoods entire network, which spans a central office and six branch locations throughout Los Angeles County. Next up, Praxis in April will pilot test CSAs (Cisco Security Agents) across selected Shorewood servers and desktops. The intrusion detection software, which Cisco acquired last year, will work side by side with anti-virus software and Cisco firewalls to defend Shorewoods network from probing eyes and rogue software.
The CSA pilot test comes at a critical time for Shorewood. More than 350 agents across seven offices depend on the firms network to manage listings, schedule meetings and communicate with residential buyers and sellers. Moreover, Shorewoods Web site serves nearly 1,000 visitors a day.
Thanks in large part to these systems, Shorewoods sales volume reached $1.9 billion last year, up a healthy 9 percent from 2002.
“Buying and selling a home is still a very personal process,” said Mike Collins, general manager of Shorewood. “Our systems enhance our personal touch and make us look even more professional.”
Now, consider the potential impact of Shorewoods network going dark. “Our agents are dependent upon the network seven days a week,” said Lynn Edwards, chief financial officer at Shorewood. “Any downtime means a potential lost deal. But beyond downtime, the additional costs and liabilities of network intrusions are serious concerns for us.”
Even before the CSA rollout, Shorewood took a vigilant security stand with virus protection and security patches. “However, the cost of constantly distributing security patches to all of our desktops and servers has become unmanageable,” Edwards said. “Its a disruptive process. The [CSA] will free us from the burden of constant updates, saving us real time and money.”
The Cost of CSA,
WAN Support and Integration”>
Cisco licenses CSA as a console station that runs on a server; CSA software agents are deployed on neighboring servers and desktops. A CSA starter kit includes the console, one server and 10 desktops for $3,000. Additional server agents cost $1,775, and a 25-desktop pack lists for $1,625.
Instead of scrambling to apply emergency patches from software vendors, Shorewood should be able to update its systems on a more predictable timeline with CSA.
“Shorewood will be protected from new, unknown attacks without making any ongoing changes to individual machines,” said Jennifer Roback, vice president of sales at Praxis, in Los Angeles. “Because of this, we expect Shorewood to see a very quick return on investment from the CSA deployment, as well as a greatly increased level of network security.”
Assuming the pilot test goes well, Shorewood expects to roll out CSA across its seven offices over a 30-day period this spring. “The bulk of the work is in the initial pilot, where well customize CSA for Shorewoods environment,” said Roback.
CSA has default settings for desktops, Web servers, e-mail servers and more. During the pilot test, the CSAs wont interrupt or block Shorewood user activities at any time. Instead, the agents log all network activities they recommend denying. After a few days of logging, Praxis will use the information to develop rules for permitted and denied network activities. Once the customized CSA rules are outlined, Shorewood can deploy the software agents rapidly over the network using a single executable.
Equally important, ongoing CSA updates from the server to the client agents are automated. “Any future updates to the rules are made at the console application,” said Roback. “They are propagated automatically to the client agents, which periodically poll the server for changes.”
This isnt the first time Shorewood has turned to Praxis for integration services. Their relationship began more than 10 years ago, when Shorewood sought a solutions provider to develop a commission database for its sales agents.
“Based upon our success with that project, I recommended that the rest of Shorewoods management team engage Praxis to provide strategic direction for the firms technology infrastructure,” said Edwards.
The move paid off. Praxis has since designed a WAN that blankets Shorewoods central office and six field offices throughout Los Angeles South Bay. Each field office has a Cisco 2950 Series switch and a 1700 Series router. Frame relay connects branch routers to the central office, which houses a Cisco 2600 router and a Cisco Catalyst 4503 switch.
The corporate office maintains several servers that manage Web, database, e-mail and file services for all the offices. A Cisco PIX 520 firewall and Cisco 4210 IDS (intrusion detection system) protects the entire network from probing eyes and would-be attackers. Naturally, the IDS will work side by side with the CSAs.
For mobile sales agents, each Shorewood office has kiosk stations with secure access to Shorewoods network services as well as the Internet. Group policies lock down the Windows XP-based kiosks, permitting only Shorewood-approved applications to run.
Agents can also access Shorewoods network from afar. Using an assigned password and user name, agents working remotely can access a secure intranet that includes marketing materials, real estate statistics and Shorewoods full property listings database. Remote intranet connections are secured using 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer.
Moreover, Shorewoods corporate officers can remotely access additional areas of the corporate network using Ciscos VPN client software and Cisco 831 routers, which connect to the PIX firewall.