ERA builds defence against cyber threat

Emirates Racing Association rids itself of e-mail server pain with borderware system

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By  Greg Wilson Published  April 2, 2002

|~||~||~|Emirates Racing Association (ERA), the controlling body of horse racing within the UAE, has seen its business interests grow rapidly over the last several years. However, its IT infrastructure hadn’t scaled to keep pace with the growing number of users or business units. By the end of August 2001 an inadequate e-mail server was causing serious business disruption.

“The organisation had probably grown faster than the IT and things were being clogged down,” says ERA’s IT co-ordinator, Terry Spargo. “We knew that we needed a new e-mail server, [because] we were having continuous problems, particularly as the [files] got bigger and bigger,” he adds.

Previously, ERA’s IT strategy had been put together in an ad-hoc fashion, mainly using retail advice. However, when the Microsoft Exchange system started to cause problems, ERA formed an IT committee to find a solution. “We didn’t have a dedicated IT person as such… We reached a point that [the e-mail server] was slowing things down in the office, so we made a decision by consensus that we had to do something about it. We formed a committe and I ended up the chairman of it,” explains Spargo.

A greater degree of urgency was injected into the process when the firewall crashed, bringing down the entire e-mail server. Following a recommendation from sister company Nad Al Sheba, ERA contacted Dubai Technology Partners (DTP) the local representative for BorderWare. After discussions with DTP, ERA upgraded its server hardware and deployed BorderWare’s Firewall Server and Mail Gateway. “We are a licensing body, we have a lot of records of a confidential nature sitting on our server, as well as our own accounting records and payroll. The old firewall was nearly totally corrupted… [and] we were finding ourselves being used as a spamming agency at one stage,” explains Spargo. “BorderWare seemed to offer very good security, that is the reason we went with it,” he adds.

Another reason for opting for BorderWare was DTP’s services. As a regulatory organisation, ERA had little interest in either hiring or training somebody in-house to maintain its systems. Consequently, much of ERA’s technology needs have since been outsourced to DTP. “We have just signed a consultancy agreement… [and] we also have a maintenance agreement with [DTP],” says Spargo.

With the BorderWare solution in place and DTP onside ERA is already assessing future IT initiatives. Currently, many of the applications used by ERA are for administrative purposes, however, the experience of the last six months has risen awareness of how and where the organisation can maximise its use of IT.

“We can improve our working practices by using computers… We are still learning and still trying to improve,” comments Spargo.

DTP has already completed additional project work for ERA at its Hatta-based stud farm. Situated in a remote location, the ‘studs’ don’t have any phone lines, which makes communication problematic. Previously, the staff at the ‘studs’ had used a PC connected to a GSM phone to send and receive faxes. But “it wasn’t really working very well,” says Spargo. “This was a problem, particularly during the breeding season, when the stud [farm] needed to communicate with the UK.”

DTP came up with a solution using Thuraya satellite phones and a couple of IBM ThinkPads. “We got some [Thuraya] satellite phones to ensure constant communication and [linked] them up with a couple of IBM laptops — one either side of the stud. They are up at the [stud farm] now and are working fine,” says Spargo.

DTP is also currently investigating the possibility of putting in wireless networks at the Nad Al Sheba stables. “If we get that networked then it would change the working practice at the stable and let us share information backwards and forwards,” he adds.||**||

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