Al Shafar General Contracting needed a comprehensive solution to stop internet threats from compromising its various sites in the UAE. It found the best fit in Cyberoam appliances.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  August 25, 2008

Al Shafar General Contracting needed a comprehensive solution to stop internet threats from compromising its various sites in the UAE. It found the best fit in Cyberoam appliances.

Construction in the region is simply booming and it appears that every day a new project is either being announced or begun.

Along with the boom comes a myriad challenges that are often unseen by the general public. Many of these challenges are faced by IT professionals who have to do daily battles with issues like connectivity and security, often times over huge geographic distances.

Al Shafar General Contracting (ASGC) is a major UAE building contractor. With head offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, ASGC has construction interests spread throughout the country and an IT department that is less than two years old.

"There was a need for a growing group like ASGC to ensure that all business processes were effectively maintained and operated on an online basis. We also felt that it was necessary that all the group companies and site offices were provided with online access to the systems and applications that would be responsible for its maintenance and operation," says Surendran Pariyanghat, IT manager of ASGC.

Pariyanghat began the IT department from scratch just over 18 months ago and was faced with the task of not only introducing an effective range of solutions to see to the company's complete IT needs but also to transform the operations from a manual to electronic system.

"Apart from the head office, which had a primitive communications system, all of our other sites still conducted everything, from purchase orders to requisitions, on paper. This could clearly not remain the status quo in the company" Pariyanghat explains.

Pariyanghat spent the first three months of his tenure putting the basic IT infrastructure in place which included equipping datacentres, installing servers and providing remote locations with their own IT facilities. He also established a staff of 25 which is divided into three teams.

One team is responsible for infrastructure, one for communications and the other for ERP. There are eight members in the ERP team while the others have four each. The remaining 11 staff members are employed as administrators.

"Once the infrastructure was in place the next steps were establishing connectivity between the sites," says Pariyanghat. Connectivity takes the form of a number of different solutions depending on the location and resources available, including WiMAX, 3G and ADSL lines.

As a growing organisation with 22 locations, ASGC also needed to look at network security afresh as it previously had not enjoyed connectivity between the sites. With this increased focus on network security, Pariyanghat and his team found themselves spending more effort protecting their networks than on actual network setup and administration.

Pariyanghat says, "As network administrators, we are constantly trying to keep abreast of the wide number of security issues confronting us. Accordingly, we were looking for a solution that would prove to be a one-stop shop for all our needs with regards to internet security and web access management."

The ASGC IT team needed a solution that would relieve it of the extra workload and also protect it effectively from the increasing number of internet threats. With this in mind, Pariyanghat and his team looked at a range of offerings including products from Cisco, SonicWall and Cyberoam. After due research, the team opted for Cyberoam's CR series of unified threat management appliances.

"Cyberoam offers the accessibility for various rules and standards to be maintained. We tested it in comparison to the other products and were happy with the results. When we had the discussion with the vendor, they gave us a lot of confidence regarding their support, maintenance and the development of the product on the security side of things and their plans for upgrades and improvements," Pariyanghat goes on

Initially ASGC deployed one CR 100i and four CR 50i appliances in the head office along with ten CR 25i appliances at remote construction sites. As new construction sites keep coming up, the tally of appliances keeps going up.

"One appliance at the head office is dedicated to gateway security. The appliances at the remote sites are then subsequently used to connect to the head office via VPN," describes Pariyanghat.

"The Cyberoam appliances actually proved to be very robust and extremely powerful in terms of the manageability and reporting structures that they adopt. The process of defining and setting up of policies has been designed in a very structured manner, not to mention that the combination of the various types of policies into one core rule makes the appliances a very powerful and effective yet very simple to manage solution," he adds.

Obstacles overcome

"To date we have 26 appliances. These were implemented around 15 months ago, and it took a month to get them up and running. After that we put in a Citrix solution which allows us to host applications from the head office, which our users can then access from the remote sites. The Citrix solution has now been in place for a year," Pariyanghat explains.

The various sites and specific requirements of each proved to be a major challenge for ASGC when it came to setting up its remote locations.

"Deployment of the Cyberoam devices across all the company's locations has undoubtedly been the most challenging and rewarding implementation that we have done in the last year," states Pariyanghat.

"Connectivity proved to be an issue. Since the appliances were not designed to function within the Middle East or the UAE to be more specific, we had a lot of issues with the way the dynamic hostnames would be populated with the service providers," Pariyanghat says.

"Subsequently VPN modules in the appliances were redesigned as necessary. In addition, some sites connect on WiMAX and others 3G, that means different routers were needed for each of them," points out Pariyanghat.

"We actually built most of our solutions in and around the VPN structures and I must say that solutions such as the ERP have worked seamlessly with the firewall and the VPN structures that have been implemented," says Pariyanghat.

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