Real estate firm is sold on VPN technology

www.nwfusion.com |  Development

As a real estate company, Old Republic Title knows a thing or two about moving.
But
IS Manager Robert Matanane acknowledges that the company's move from a dial-up
modem-based network to a virtual private network (VPN) has had its share of
surprises.

For example, the firm has had to rely on more site visits from its hardware
suppliers than anticipated. And some of Old Republic's assumptions about ease of use
for end users have proven to be overly optimistic.

But overall, Matanane says the VPN is a vast improvement over the company's dial-up
WAN in terms of speed, security and flexibility. And the company, which uses its
network to exchange documents and other data, has already used the VPN to close
transactions in the U.S. and abroad.

Before the VPN, Old Republic offices in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and
Washington about once per hour dialed out to a hub site in their respective states to
dump accounting data from real estate transactions. Those hub sites would then dial the
Santa Clara, Calif., office to transfer the data to a Windows NT server.

But this network proved difficult to maintain and keep secure.

"I don't want modems on the network for security reasons,"Matanane says. "I want to
be able to authenticate and shore up one pipe rather than have to deal with many
different holes in the network."

Old Republic decided to link the regional hubs to the Santa Clara site via a VPN
comprising secure links over the
Internet. The company also upgraded connections into the state hubs from dial-up to
128K bit/sec frame relay.

The Internet acts as the VPN's backbone and costs less than half as much as the
alternative Matanane considered -- interstate T-1 frame relay.

To prepare for the frame relay circuits that feed into the hub sites, Old Republic
replaced NT remote access servers at the five state hub sites with 3Com Netbuilder II
routers.

Matanane then installed a 3Com Pathbuilder 500 VPN tunnel switch in Santa Clara to
terminate the Internet connections from the hub sites.

Those sessions are secured using encryption and packet encapsulation via
point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP). Similar secure tunnels are used by about 40
Old
Republic employees who want to access the corporate network from home.

Before buying the tunnel switch, Old Republic considered VPN gear from Cisco and
Cabletron, but opted to go with 3Com because the firm's IS staff was familiar with 3Com
gear.

Matanane says the documentation for the tunnel switch was a little thin, so Old
Republic has relied heavily on 3Com technicians to set up the VPN. "It definitely helps
to have someone who has actually done this before," he says.

While the VPN has provided benefits for the company, Matanane acknowledges that some
of his expectations for the VPN were unrealistic.

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