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Thu 9 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Network ruler

Axiom Telecom’s IT operations in Saudi Arabia has improved its control over remote users, and restricted bandwidth abuse with effective strategies backed by appropriate solutions.

Axiom Telecom’s IT operations in Saudi Arabia has improved its control over remote users, and restricted bandwidth abuse with effective strategies backed by appropriate solutions.

The Middle East, as has been pointed out by observers, is a retail market unlike any other. Enterprises have retail points as well as service and distribution hubs, all located great distances from one another and this leads to a number of unique challenges, most notably for the IT staff. With internet based communication often the key to effective business practices the lack of bandwidth can be crippling to any firm, especially one like Axiom Telecom.

Axiom Telecom is one of the Middle East’s leading distributors of mobile and wireless communications. The company has over 400 retail outlets across the region and more than 1000 employees. Axiom also acts as a reseller of network operator airtime, and achieves revenues approaching US$1 billion annually.

The Linux based content filtering solution failed to provide effective control over the users’ surfing behaviour. As a result, we saw our bandwidth being eaten up.

In Saudi Arabia, Axiom comprises 180 outlets spread throughout the Kingdom. The IT infrastructure at Axiom is understandably quite complex with the head office hosting all the business critical applications. These applications are accessed via the internet by the the firm’s regional offices and remote locations using Citrix terminal services.

Axiom in KSA has progressively suffered from a growing misuse of bandwidth. This misuse not only meant that the bandwidth was being devoured but also exposed Axiom to a number of threats.

“We were using a Linux-based content filtering solution, with regulations based on the IP address instead of the specific user. It failed to provide effective control over the internet surfing behaviour of the employees. As a result, we saw our bandwidth being eaten up unnecessarily,” says Mohammed Parvez, IT supervisor at Axiom Telecom in Saudi Arabia.

Bandwidth is one of the great bugbears for CIOs throughout the Middle East as enterprises are faced with not only an insufficient supply, but also the relatively high cost of the available bandwidth.

Parvez was further concerned with how the unauthorised internet usage exposed the infrastructure to a number of blended threats including spyware, malware and viruses.

“There were three primary areas that I wanted to take care of when it came to a new solution. I needed to be able to reform the employees’ surfing habits and promote positive responsible behaviour, limit the security threats by deploying multi-tier gateway security and, most importantly, ensure the productive use of bandwidth,” explains Parvez.

Axiom engaged in a lengthy process of looking at the available products and solutions in the market place. The retail giant was looking for a solution that would simultaneously address both its bandwidth and security issues.

Safe, secure and cost-effective

“We approached the process of selecting a solution from three specific viewpoints. First, we looked at the features and performance of the solution versus the measurable costs. This enabled us to put together an initial shortlist. Secondly, we conducted our own product evaluations in a test environment in order to verify the features and performance. Finally, we did both pre-installation and post-installation support testing,” says Parvez.

After the extensive product evaluation had been done, Axiom settled on Cyberoam appliances. “Cyberoam met all of our requirements. It contains all the required features in one box – extensive reporting functions together with a unique user-based control for all necessary security functions like antivirus and anti-spam. Moreover, we received excellent service and support from Cyberoam both before and after installation,” says Parvez.

“Cyberoam has made it possible for us to control net access based on the user and well-defined protocols. Through it we have been able to create and enforce policies that allow us to work on web filtering and block unwanted applications,” he adds.

In addition, Parvez has been able to better manage and prioritise his bandwidth through the use of specific policies related to various users and applications. Productivity has improved by leaps and bounds, as the company is able to maintain internet uptime with link-load balancing as well as failover VPN features, which provide better connectivity between the head office and remote sites.

Axiom in Saudi Arabia currently has nine Cyberoam UTM security appliances with one CR100i at the head office and a further eight CR50 appliances located throughout the remote offices.

Core switches:None

Edge switches:Cisco Catalyst and HP 2650

Routers:Cisco series 1760


Voice systems:Not yet – planning for next year

Servers:Citrix server at the head office

WAN optimization:None

Network operating systems:Windows

Remote access:VNC

Network management systems:NetOM, Linux HO

Storage:Solarwinds Orion, Netflow

The Cyberoam implementation took place just over a year ago. “Implementation and deployment was an absolute pleasure as the vendor’s support team studied our network and presented us with a complete deployment plan. It took just one day and we experienced no significant downtime,” explains Parvez.

In addition to the purchase of the Cyberoam appliances, Axiom has engaged in three additional implementations in the past year. There was the roll-out of a new ERP system, to cater to the company’s service centres, offices and warehouses at Khobar, Riyadh and Jeddah. The other two projects involved a restructuring of the IT teams and process automation systems, along with the automation of internet security and branch connectivity, which took place with the aid of the Cyberoam appliances.

“These implementations came about quite naturally as the organisation continues to grow and evolve. Where the previous ERP system was unable to cater to the ever-increasing organisational IT requirements, our new ERP system provides us with real time data accessibility,” says Parvez.

“Internet security is a must for every IT enabled organisation, and it was required of us to upgrade the IT security solutions as per our current security needs. When we implemented Cyberoam we had this in mind. It has subsequently helped us to provide better accessibility to the net and at the same time control and management of internet resources,” Parvez continues.

Reaping the rewards

Axiom has reaped the benefits of Cyberoam almost from day one with the effective management of bandwidth and the resultant improvement in business process, as critical applications became more readily accessible.

“This has been a unanimous success as far as we are concerned. We will see the return on our investment come good at the end of this year. We calculate this by the cost savings we have achieved in terms of bandwidth expenditure, as well as the relevant increase in productive hours,” enthuses Parvez.

For an organisation that has as many outlets spread across great distances as Axiom does, securing the IT infrastructure is a necessity. And it does so with measures apart from the Cyberoam appliances, including the use of access management tools like key cards, and data encryption to protect business critical data across its network.

“In addition, we make use of security devices to provide restricted access to the internet. This allows us to control any data leakage that may occur with e-mail or instant messaging. Branch connectivity is made safe through the use of VPN,” elaborates Parvez.

Future watch

Parvez and his team are a group of six comprising the IT supervisor, an ERP coordinator, a service application coordinator and three consultants on the help desk.

As Axiom continues to develop and expand, Parvez and his team are looking ahead, and planning the next step in streamlining the company’s IT processes and achieving even greater productivity.

“Currently all the offices are connected using VPN infrastructure and are able to communicate with each other. The natural step for the next year is to roll out voice over IP (VoIP). This is our next big project,” says Parvez.

At Axiom, IT budgets are based on the annual IT requirements, the current growth of the organisation, the strategic plans for company expansion, and the rate of equipment depreciation.

“We in the IT team study all the IT-related requirements from the various departments, and put considered systems through the same selection criteria as used for Cyberoam. If any solution meets our requirements we then present it to senior management. When it is approved, we begin with the necessary deployment planning,” explains Parvez.

It is that sort of structure and planning that stands Axiom Telecom in good stead as it continues to grow and improve its operation, not only in KSA but the entire Middle East.

All about Axiom

Axiom Telecom is one of the largest authorised distributors and retailers of international brands such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, Thuraya and i-Mate in the region. Axiom specialises in wireless communication products and boasts more than 500 outlets in prime retail locations across the region.

Axiom employs over 1700 people and has operations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, London, Egypt and India.

The company is made up of different business units. Retail is the flagship business. However, wholesale makes Axiom the biggest multi-brand distributor in the Middle East and Europe. Axiomplus is another successful business unit that focuses on selling value-added services like ringtones, games, wallpaper, data back-up and many more mobile wireless applications.

The mobile service centre is another important business unit for the company and takes care of all after sales services in Axiom.

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