Ironclad solution

When the Alfahim group in the UAE found itself overwhelmed by email spam, it looked for a product that could filter out the junk emails without affecting its business users. ACN finds out more.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  May 1, 2006

|~|tariq-elsadik200.jpg|~|Elsadik: Ironport received overwhelming winning scores and provided best value.|~|All companies need to make themselves accessible to their customers, but sometimes this can cause its own problems in the form of spam and viruses. For every 10 genuine emails it received, the Alfahim group in Abu Dhabi found itself receiving four that were spam.

Mohammed Faisal, database administrator at Alfahim, says: "We had a very difficult time because we had noticed the email we received was 30% to 40% spam and our users, particularly the business users, were completely frustrated by this."

Alfahim has businesses ranging from luxury cars to tourism, and spans the UAE, with offices in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah. The group runs a shared services IT organisation and all email traffic is controlled centrally.

However, it did not have an adequate anti-spam facility in place and productivity was being affected as a result.
Joseph Hanna, Middle East sales manager, Ironport Systems says: "Alfahim, like all corporate organisations, faced a big challenge on spam and virus protection."

The group decided the time was right for a specialised product, having previously been reliant on an anti-virus solution on its server. "While it's an anti-virus solution, it has very simple features to block some emails for spam scanning," says Faisal.

"But it is not a fully-fledged spam solution; it's just an anti-virus solution. There are several methods and techniques (for spam) to get into your network that those technologies and that particular solution wasn't able to stop."

Without a dedicated anti-spam system in place, the IT team had to carry out time-consuming work trying to reduce spam.
"We had a tough time on a daily basis," says Faisal. "In order to stop the spam we had to go to certain websites and copy the spam files and the subject lines to block everything - that’s hectic administration activity."

According to Tariq Elsadik, CIO of Alfahim, the company evaluated some of the top appliance-based solutions available on the market. "We even considered going with a managed service but selected Ironport because it received overwhelming winning scores and proved to provide the best value for money," he says.

The group evaluated the anti-spam solutions available, even deploying several of the units on site, before deciding on an IronPort C10 solution.

"It has more than addressed our needs; the solution's value addition to the business was immediately evident via the in-depth reporting features provided by the appliance," says Elsadik.

As well as totally living up to its expectations, the unit was quick and easy to install. Faisal explains: "First we just did the normal deployment with the basic features enabled, then we kept on adding and building the other features available in IronPort. For the basic features, it just took one or two hours." He adds: "It has integrated well and is doing what we expected."

The group is confident that the IronPort unit will pay for itself before long, because it requires reduced manpower to tackle spam and has freed up business users who no longer have to waste time wading through bogus emails.||**|||~||~||~|"Once that box was deployed we we found ourselves with a lot of time that we were able to spend on other activities," says Faisal. “Ironport added a lot of value to Alfahim services, no doubt about it."

The system has also made it easier to detect internal abuses or unsafe use of the internet. "It's something that we are using on a daily basis," says Elsadik. "We are monitoring the logs that we receive from this system and accordingly we are sending information out to specific users who seem to have abused the system or who seem to have been the target of spammers."

The IronPort unit has made email security easier to manage, and Faisal says that its user-friendly operation is backed up by good support. "It's very user friendly and it has got several web-based distribution tools," he says. "We have fantastic support, another added value, because purchasing the box and deployment is not the only issue these days. We have a fantastic service from them, we get the response within 24 hours."

However, there was another important consideration. "We made some analysis and discussed both from the security perspective and the availability perspective what would happen should the box go down. Users would not be able to access email," says Faisal.

On IronPort's advice, Alfahim purchased another C10 unit as a backup. By copying the configuration onto the redundant box, it can take over if disaster strikes, minimising downtime.
"The installation is very simple, you just copy the configuration and it's like you copy and paste," said Faisal. "It's all in one small database, an XML file, so even if for some reason the whole box goes down, which never happens, if it happens it's just a matter of replacing the box and copying the files. It just takes a few minutes."

So, Alfahim has a contingency plan if the worst happens, but it also needs to look at the implications of the continued success of its business. The group has demonstrated strong growth - in 1954 it was a single shop in the Al Ain market, whereas today it has 2,000 employees and a multitude of business interests spanning the UAE - and the company may have to reconsider its email security in the next few years if such growth continues.

Faisal estimates that Alfahim currently has around 500 email users and its users receive more than 1,500 external emails per day. The IronPort C10 appliance has the capacity to handle one million incoming emails per day and 1,000 users, so it is likely to be adequate for Alfahim's needs for at least the next couple of years.

When the time comes that Alfahim requires a larger solution, it is a simple matter to upgrade to the next box in the IronPort family. The C300 is suggested for organisations with 1,000 to 5,000 users, while at the higher end the X1000 can handle more than one million messages per hour.

For now, Faisal is confident that Alfahim has made the right choice to make its business more secure and more efficient. "The world of security threats is ever growing and each and every day we see a lot of problems coming into it," he says, "but right now we are able to manage everything with this box."||**||

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