At TechTarget's recent Networking Decisions conference, Illinois Tool Works Inc. was honored with the Network Management Visionary Award for its use of an innovative secure wide area connection that links several hundred locations.
Illinois Tool Works, the Glenview, Ill., manufacturer of products ranging from nail guns to packaging seals, has 600 separate sites across the globe. Many of these business units connect to the Internet through separate Internet service providers (ISPs). They have their own unrelated infrastructures and IT departments of varying sizes.
The company was looking for some way to connect these disparate sites with the least disruption to their infrastructures and ISP agreements.
Security was a high priority. The business units often send financial data and other sensitive information to the central office. Bringing all 600 locations together under one secure wide area network (WAN) connection was huge challenge, said John Klein, ITW's telecommunications director.
While some sites were connected to the corporate headquarters with frame relay connections, that model was too expensive to apply to all 600 sites. So, Klein began to consider other options.
He tried looking at managed services but found the cost to be prohibitive. Hardware-based solutions also presented a problem. With so many sites spread out internationally, it would have taken a long time to deliver and install such systems.
Klein eventually came across OpenReach Inc., the Woburn, Mass.-based provider of secure WAN services. Unlike other companies that offer secure Internet links, OpenReach is not an ISP. It does not own Internet infrastructure. Instead, its IP-based system is designed to work with a company's existing mix of ISPs.
OpenReach's system can work across just about any Internet connection, said Jonathan Harwood, senior vice president of network operations at OpenReach. The company has customers that use everything from dial-up to satellite connections.
Klein was impressed with OpenReach's flexibility. With hundreds of business units scattered across the globe that had many different ways of connecting to the Internet, it was important that whatever company he worked with could accommodate his current and future group of ISPs.
OpenReach's system runs on a single dedicated Pentium class PC at each site. An IT administrator has only to download the software for the gateway to the PC and set it up. Klein said it took less than an hour to install the software and get the gateway up and running at each site.
All communication is protected by 128-bit encryption, which provides a high level of security. OpenReach monitors the system's performance and notifies IT departments if there is a problem.
It's a system that Klein has been happy with thus far. "Now we can talk to business units in other parts of the country and not worry about intruders hacking into valuable information," Klein said.
For a company like ITW, which has so many far-flung sites, OpenReach offers an efficient and flexible way to set up secure WAN connections, said Jim Slaby, a senior industry analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., the Cambridge, Mass., research firm.
But one drawback to using a system such as this can be the added latency in the system, Slaby said. With a single large backbone provider like WorldCom or AT&T, data will go through fewer handoffs on its way across the Internet. Depending on the mix of ISPs that a company uses with OpenReach's system, data can end up being routed through multiple handoffs, leading to increased latency, Slaby said.
Harwood agrees that for some companies using smaller ISPs, that can be an issue. But for a company with so many sites, some of them in areas too rural to be reached by big carrier such as WorldCom, OpenReach has a product that can be of real value, Slaby said.