January 28, 2006
 

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Posted: 12.04

Order In the Court

For South Carolina officers, work in courtrooms and on the go just became a lot more secure.
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By Barbara A. Laurencio




When access to data in a real-time environment is critical to the smooth and efficient functioning of an organization, there is no pardoning a solution that doesn’t toe the line.

The South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (SCDPPPS) is responsible for helping motivated parolees succeed in their communities upon release through public safety initiatives. The organization’s main responsibilities include supervising parolees, promoting public safety, investigating cases, providing assistance and support to crime victims, and providing resources to support the state’s Emergency Operations Plan and Homeland Security. Overall, there are more than 50,000 parolees under the department’s supervision.

In addition to managing the more than 900 laptop workstations in over 56 sites, the SCDPPPS IT department must also adjust to the increasingly mobile nature of the department’s agents; 60 to 65 percent of their work now takes place out of the office. These individuals supervise parolees in the field while also traveling to various courtrooms around South Carolina. In order to provide the agents with network access so that case-related materials and other important information is at their fingertips when they need it, David O’Berry, director of information systems and services, sought out a mobile solution.

In 2001, O’Berry deployed a Nortel Networks IPSec VPN in a first attempt to create a cost-effective, secure remote-access solution for more than 100 mobile users. Unfortunately, the deployment resulted in a solution that, as needs within the organization changed, did not bode well for the amount of time invested per user.

“With IPSec, we had to have people make modifications. If they had a firewall up, they had to modify the firewall … if they had a router with access control, they had to go in and change how their router acted, depending on if they were using the router as a firewall,” explains O’Berry.

This was a huge challenge for O’Berry and his team because they had to install a client on every PC that needed to access their network. Very often, team members had to personally drive to each site and obtain permission for their IT people to install clients on the PCs; and the process had to be repeated for any upgrades.
“We had to go on a case-by-case basis to get people to make modifications. I knew we had to find some way of not having to fiddle with every individual site that we were dealing with.”

Real Simple

The time for a new approach came when SCDPPPS received the first phase of a grant to put laptops in every courtroom throughout the state’s 46 counties. “The initial target was 15 courtrooms, but we stretched it to 25,” says O’Berry. Because the IPSec solution was not scaling based on the time required per location and the lack of control over local network configurations, O’Berry began to look at potential SSL solutions that would traverse firewalls, were easy to deploy and maintain, and were reasonably priced.

Early in the process, O’Berry was close to going with a leading company, but found they could not afford the cost for the organization’s required user count. That’s when O’Berry discovered Net6. The Net6 Hybrid-VPN provides users with remote access through firewalls and prevents the traversal of worms by not bridging networks. Also, IT upgrade support costs are eliminated with a URL-distributed client that automatically updates when the user connects to the network. Unlike SSL VPNs, the Hybrid-VPN provides a desk-like network experience and supports all protocols and applications in native form without any custom programming or high pricing.

“When we looked at Net6, it was coming in at 20 to 25 percent of the total cost for the same user count as the competitor,” states O’Berry. “I didn’t want to cap us at 500, or 100 to 150 user counts.”

Implementation of the Net6 Hybrid-VPN seemed like a dream to O’Berry and his team. “On the server side, we were literally blown away when we were setting up the Hybrid-VPN. It was pretty much plug and play,” recalls Tom Webb, assistant network manager for SCDPPPS. “We dropped this in, and within 20 to 40 minutes we were pretty much functional,” adds O’Berry.

Getting to Know All About You

Prior to Net6, SCDPPPS used an open-source virtual network computing (VNC) technology to enable the IT group to log in remotely to an end user’s machine. This technology, if improperly installed, can create serious security issues. However, the remote control feature of the Hybrid-VPN allowed the organization to troubleshoot remote users’ PCs by desktop sharing.

“This feature is fantastic. You have an encrypted tunnel, and all you have to do is share your desktop,” says O’Berry. “We now have a secure solution and we don’t have to leave VNC running.” The remote control feature is also very easy to use. “You can just have somebody click on ‘Share,’ the other person clicks ‘OK,’ and the application appears right on your desktop and you can share it,” explains Webb. “We really like that feature, and we’ve already received a very good response to this part of the product to the point where people here are almost beside themselves.” Instead of the IT group spending hours on the phone with SCDPPPS staff who are having technical issues, they can quickly access the remote desktop via the Hybrid-VPN and correct any problems.
Another timesaver is the auto-upgrade feature. According to Webb, this saves the group the biannual, manual IPSec client upgrade. “Before Net6 it took us three months to install 20 laptops. With Net6, I’m estimating it would probably take us three to four weeks to do 100 laptops from the connectivity standpoint.”

“From a time perspective,” adds O’Berry, “this has already paid for itself.” •

Barbara Laurencio is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.



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