The Last Word

A Helping Hand

MOST, if not all, companies today depend on the Internet to conduct business. But for the United Way of Connecticut, Web communication is a lifeline to support its mission.

With a multi-faceted agenda, the United Way of Connecticut supports the 24 independent chapters in the state while providing a statewide information help line and maintaining a group of Web sites that provide resources and volunteer opportunities -- a lifeblood of a non-profit organization.

The 2-1-1 Infoline is a help-by-telephone service that assisted more than 315,000 people in 2005. While far away from the hurricane devastation that affected the Gulf Coast, the organization also handled overflow calls for Florida's 2-1-1 program.

And in 2004, the organization began looking into upgrading its infrastructure after its previous software firewall solution was declining.

"People were having a lot of difficulty getting on the Internet, and e-mail was becoming unreliable for some employees," said Paul Zocco, vice president of information systems for the United Way of Connecticut. "The maintenance costs alone on the old firewall approached the prices of new firewall appliance that were complete, better hardened solutions."

A Better Solution
That's where the NS6300 from Network Engines comes into play. Instead of a simple firewall protection for a computer network, the appliance combines Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) with Websense Security Suite.

In today's business environment, the Internet can be a double-edged sword where both good and bad can happen, said Robert Mannal, director of product management at Network Engines.

"If the world was smooth, clean and happy, the evolution of Internet communications would be easy," Mannal said. "But obviously it is not. The problem is that there are bad people who want to take advantage of the system for their own gain. Years ago, these people were called hackers -- those who did what they did for the thrill of it. Today, these people are called thieves."

While Internet use increased in the workplace, companies have increased the use of proxies, servers located locally that sit close to the Internet and store frequently visited sites. When a user requests a page, the proxy delivers the requested information, allowing for a faster retrieval of the information.

Proxies also can be combined with Web filters that verify access to a specific web site and screen inbound information.

Appliance Accuracy
The NS6300 combines both functions in an appliance format that companies have been asking for, Mannal said.

"The need for an appliance like the NS6300 has grown from two factors," Mannal said. "The first is that the growth for IT has strained the capacity to produce knowledge workers. That lack of resources has put pressure on IT managers. The second factor is that there is a broad demand for a purpose-built solution that has a high degree of security."

Microsoft was one of the first companies to offer a proxy server to businesses and now its offering combines an application-layer firewall for applications like Exchange along with proxying. ISA also is strongly tied to Active Directory, allowing for strong authentication methods to access Web resources.

The NS6300, installed behind a perimeter firewall and in front of Web servers, also adds Websense's Security Suite. The program provides content filtering and security tools that protect against both current and emerging Web-based threats.

"What the NS6300 provides is a product that takes the solution from Microsoft and places it in front of the organizations servers, providing a defense-in-depth solution," Mannal said. "It's a very strong solution set that is very user-friendly and easy to set up and administer."

A User-Friendly Solution
And that user-friendly setup helped to draw Zocco to the appliance.

With just a four-person IT staff for more than 150 network users, Zocco said the organization was looking for a solution that would save time in maintenance, setup and management. And in August 2004, the United Way of Connecticut installed a beta version of the NS6300.

"We put the Network Engines beta product to work the day they delivered because our old firewall was deteriorating rapidly," Zocco said. "The NS6300 took less than an hour to install and another three hours to configure and test, so we had it up and running the same day."

Zocco said the results were immediate and apparent for the organization.

"The great thing about the NS6300 is that the application-level filtering in ISA Server 2004 provides deeper inspection of applications than a lot of other firewalls," he said.

Another strong feature of the NS6300 that Zocco lauded is the automatic update feature. Network Engines troubleshoots and tests upgrades of all software components included in the appliance so that an IT administrator only needs to apply one update.

"I expect the automatic update feature to lower our operating costs because it's a great time saver for our IT department," he said.

And while the NS6300 is working in the background, making vital Internet communication easier and safer, the United Way of Connecticut can focus on its mission of helping.

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