The Sports Authority Hits A Home Run With Remote Access Solution

"Their requirement was to be able to access corporate applications from a kiosk anywhere in the world as if they were just sitting at their desk," said Kowlaski. "They labeled the requirement with the word 'kiosk,' but what they basically said was, 'I don't care if an employee logs on with a PC, or from their daughter's home PC, or from an airport kiosk, we just don't want to have to manage any PCs out in the field.' " Complicating the challenge, Sports Authority wanted to provide not only secure remote e-mail access, but secure access to more than a dozen applications used by the retailer, said Kowlaski. A mixed array of computing platforms supporting the retailer's applications raised the bar for Englewood, Colo.-based South Seas Solutions even higher. "It was a pretty stiff requirement," Kowlaski said. "I had to find a way to do the job clientless, with no software loaded onto any PC. And the applications employees would need to access ran on mixed platforms. There were Microsoft platforms, there were some Internet-based services, some intranet applications for the advertising department, which ran on Apple gear, and even stuff running on AS/400 and IBM AIX platforms," he said.

Kowlaski knew from the beginning that he would be looking for some form of SSL VPN solution for Sports Authority. But the process from beginning to end was far from a straight line, he said.

Englewood, Colo.-based Sports Authority had already experienced a disappointing direct-sell encounter with a large West Coast vendor that failed to make its SSL VPN product solution work for the client. Even Kowlaski had a close call at the onset of the Sports Authority job when an SSL VPN solution from a second vendor ended up not delivering the type of secure remote-access environment the customer was looking for.

Determined to find the right solution, Kowlaski introduced Sports Authority to the F5 FirePass Controller, a new SSL VPN solution from F5 Networks, Seattle.

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The F5 FirePass Controller is a hardened, appliance-based SSL VPN that doesn't interfere with a customer's existing network server configuration, said Jeff Pancottine, senior vice president and general manager for the security unit at F5. The FirePass Controller's ability to manage application access dynamic-ally fits right into the needs of a customer like Sports Authority, Pancottine said.

"The big plus is that the FirePass can group applications based on the ones most used by certain departments, and it reports the resources accessed and the session time," Pancottine said.

In addition, the FirePass Controller gave the retailer the network and application protection it was looking for. At the same time, it provided the freedom for authorized users to gain network access and tap applications from any location or client device, be they on a dial-up, DSL, cable, or wireless network, Kowlaski said. The ease with which the F5 product could be configured also won over Sports Authority's IT staff, he said.

"What really impressed them was the simple interface," he said. "What they saw was similar to what a Web portal looks like. Employees could just log in and bring up a page that lists applications they are allowed to access. And the list of applications changes for each user, depending on what they can use."

Because the Sports Authority job was a clientless install, most of the work with the FirePass Controller had to do with tweaking the SSL VPN connections to properly interact with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, said Kowlaski. "There were some difficulties. Microsoft has their own way of doing things, but fortunately F5 works closely with Microsoft," he said. The F5 FirePass Controller starts at $24,990 for 100 concurrent users when deployed on F5's 4100 series appliance, Pancottine said.