Enhancing Security And Visibility
By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine
A cloud-based monitoring tool has helped this VAR and its clients improve visibility into network security.
Security is a critical component of any network infrastructure. Robust security and antivirus applications not only protect the client’s data and business operations, but also help maintain the reputation and credibility of the VAR or MSP (managed services provider) that installs or manages the network.
Local Government Corporation provides computer services to government entities throughout Tennessee and the surrounding states. The Columbia, TN-based company offers a suite of software applications, including accounts receivable, property tax, utility billing, permits, general ledger, payroll, business licensing, and other software solutions. The company also provides workstations and servers, along with Web design, hosting, and maintenance services.
Along with software and hardware, the company also resells antivirus and security software products. Recently, Local Government added a cloud-based antivirus and management tool to help monitor network health and security for the city of Dyersburg, TN, a small town (population 17,000) in the northwestern part of the state.
Local Government provides network support for Dyersburg’s entire network, supporting over 200 nodes, including 10 servers. “This network is for all city employees, including remote locations for the police department, the public works department, the highway department, and others. They have a fairly large WAN to administer,” says Wayne Phillips, technical services manager at Local Government.
Dyersburg has been a client for several years and also uses a number of software products from Local Government, along with antivirus software from AVG. The company recently upgraded the antivirus system to AVG’s CloudCare solution, which allows any cloud services and devices to be remotely managed from a Web browser. Users or resellers can generate reports, view alerts, and create and deploy new policies across the network. In addition to virus protection, the system also prevents Web-based attacks and ID theft, scans incoming and outgoing e-mails, and manages communication on network ports.
The cloud solution lets Local Government monitor all the end points on its clients’ networks, activate or deactivate services, remotely install software, and manage the antivirus solution. In the case of Dyersburg, the company administers the town’s Exchange server, while an on-site network administrator handles license management and desktop support on-site. “The administrator can see the overall health of the network from one AVG interface,” Phillips says.
That functionality has been especially helpful with managing PCs at remote locations. Previously, Dyersburg had to access an AVG administrative application to check network status; now, support staff can log into CloudCare from any location to see if there are any problems. “For remote users, the network administrator just needs an email link,” says Mikel Venable, technical services supervisor at Local Government. “Previously, if a site did not have a VPN connection at their location, those devices would not report back to the admin application. Now, using CloudCare, he gets reports back on all of the workstations.”
From Local Government’s perspective, the solution provides better customer visibility, not just at Dyersburg, but also across the company’s customer base. “We offer a number of AVG solutions, and this allows us to oversee and manage our customers in one central location,” Phillips says. “We have numerous devices in place throughout the state, and we can look at those and make sure they are up to date and getting the protection they need.” According to Phillips, once the entire customer base has been transferred to CloudCare, his staff will be able to easily monitor nearly 3,200 nodes across 600 different clients.
If the virus database is out of date, the designated administrator receives an alert. When possible, the company updates the software remotely. If for some reason they can’t connect to a specific device, they contact the customer to see if the computer is turned off or if there is another problem affecting connectivity.
According to Venable, converting customers to the cloud-based monitoring system has been fairly straightforward. “The only thing we run into is many government entities try to extend the life of their equipment to be good stewards of their government funds. Upgrading hardware is usually pushed back and last on their priority list,” he says. “Because of that, we have a fair amount of older operating systems out there, so it’s a challenge as far as getting the service packs installed to support CloudCare.”
Dyersburg is on an annual contract, which includes support for all of the software and hardware provided by Local Government. The AVG solution has a per-seat fee that is renewed annually, along with the hardware maintenance contract.
According to Phillips, strong antivirus software is a must-have in the government space, but the company doesn’t view or pursue it as a revenue generator. “We have the antivirus priced so that we can make sure our customers have protection,” Phillips says. “It’s just above recovery cost for us. We don’t factor in much margin, but that’s not why we offer it. We want to make sure our customers are protected to the best of our ability.” The cloud-based approach makes it easier for Local Government and the company’s clients to maintain that protection, while also enabling functions like remote troubleshooting and software updates. It also helps the company maintain its client relationships. “It’s really a value-add,” Venable says. “Most of our clients keep the hardware we sell them under maintenance, but even if they have third-party computers there, we install CloudCare for those systems and take care of them even if they aren’t covered for technical support. It’s important for our customers.”