PLA Resolves Security, Scalability Issues


VPN/firewall solution meets needs of senior communities


In his first week on the job as CIO of Classic Residence by Hyatt, Bill Sciortino was faced with a serious security problem he had to solve right away.

The company, which owns and operates 15 senior living communities across the country, was forced to fire a systems administrator. But firing an individual who knew corporate IP addresses and passwords posed a huge security threat, especially to a network that lacked much in the way of protection.

"It forced us to address the security issue right away," Sciortino said.

Classic Residence turned to Project Leadership Associates (PLA), a systems integrator that already was on-site helping the company convert its desktops from Windows 98 to Windows 2000.

 
 ANATOMY OF A SOLUTION
>> COMPANY: Project Leadership Associates (PLA)
>> FOCUS: Full range of IT services, including network integration and security consulting
>> PROBLEMS and SOLUTION: Classic Residence by Hyatt, an operator of enior living communities, needed to find a way to secure communications among its facilities; PLA implemented a VPN/firewall solution.
>> PRODUCTS and SERVICES USED: Nokia IP security appliances running Check Point VPN-1/FireWall-1 software.
>> LESSONS LEARNED:
• VPNs are more cost-effective and reliable than dial-up networks.
• Functional design of Nokia appliances provides for scalability and reliability.
• Centralized management capabilities are key to network security.

 

"We got in front of the white board and said, 'What are we going to do about this?' I said, 'Right now, I want a system that's scalable and secure and could leverage something we already know here,' " Sciortino said.

The company had experimented with some VPN solutions that didn't pan out, he said. PLA recommended that it implement Nokia IP security appliances running Check Point Software Technologies' VPN-1/FireWall-1 software.

The Nokia appliances are dedicated devices that are highly reliable and scale well, said Douglas Klatt, design consultant at PLA, based here. They're also easy to configure, Sciortino said.

A Nokia IP440 running the full enterprise version of Check Point's VPN-1/FireWall-1 software was installed at Classic Residence's headquarters in Chicago. The Nokia IP71, which incorporates Check Point's VPN-1/FireWall-1 Small Office software, was installed at each of the company's senior communities.

"The business objective was that they needed to communicate with these offices securely and reliably," Klatt said.

The VPN replaces a costly, erratic dial-up system; provides secure communication among the communities; saves money; and can be centrally managed, Sciortino said.

The Nokia solution was part of a broader IT overhaul at Classic Residence. Before Sciortino came on board, the company was operating mostly on stand-alone PCs at each senior living community.

"There was no real infrastructure that you could do anything centralized over, so security was [practically nonexistent. Company management realized it was not only risky, but it was impeding growth and not giving them a competitive [advantage," he said.

The company set up servers and LANs, then the Nokia security appliances, and switched the communities to broadband. The VPN laid the framework for a planned ERP solution from J.D. Edwards that will help streamline business operations, Sciortino said.

All told, the company spent between $200,000 and $300,000 for "a nationwide network that is secure and scalable," he said.

"It was a relatively small investment to get that infrastructure secure," Sciortino added. "It was necessary to our survival and competitive edge."

The Nokia solution also helped Classic Residence take full advantage of its existing Cisco routers and build three VLANs, thus streamlining the flow of data among its facilities, he said.