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New VPN and VoIP solution saves plenty for CatholicCare

Anthony Caruana

The vast and sometimes hostile landmass of Australia can be a tough place to do business. The most difficult locations of all are found in the Northern Territory. CatholicCare NT provides services across this massive area.

CatholicCare NT is a social services agency operating under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Darwin. Offering support to individuals and communities across the Territory, CatholicCare has offices in six major locations and staff in three remote communities.

Until three years ago, the distance and an ageing head office infrastructure meant that each of CatholicCare's offices ran its own small local area network. There was no central repository of documents and applications were individually installed and maintained at each site. Collaboration involved sharing documents via email with the potential for multiple versions of documents to be saved on hard drives in each location. For a social services agency dealing in sensitive information it was far from ideal. Network and document security was an ever-present concern.

When agency growth forced a move to a newer, larger building, ICT Coordinator, Jason Cubillo took the opportunity for change. A new voice and data infrastructure was needed. CatholicCare selected an Avaya solution to improve reliability, increase productivity and reduce costs.

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Cubillo explains, “Our key requirement was security. Besides creating a network we needed to lock down data and make our sites more secure. We also wanted web filtering to block out unnecessary websites. This was for productivity reasons and to reduce the cost of unnecessary bandwidth.”

Following a recommendation from local information technology supplier, Territory Technology Solutions (TTS), CatholicCare evaluated WatchGuard as they saw it as an affordable, all-in-one network and content security solution. “We did quite a lot of research, looking at how WatchGuard Firebox Core and Edge devices would work in geographically spread-out organisations. We found they catered for all our necessities,” Cubillo says.

The extensive experience of TTS with the solution was also important. “TTS has engineers who service the products and who've worked with WatchGuard for quite some time. They knew the hardware and software and that gave us confidence to go ahead,” he adds.

Deployment of the WatchGuard VPN and firewall began in Darwin before gradually moving on to other CatholicCare offices. In addition to creating the VPN, the implementation had to ensure integration with CatholicCare's new telephony system - an Avaya IP 500 complete with 150 VoIP handsets. Cubillo says "The way it's set up we have SIP trunks in each branch that connect to WatchGuard. When someone picks up a handset and dials a number, WatchGuard recognises it as a phone call and knows that Avaya takes priority”.

Management and administration of the system is controlled centrally by Cubillo with the support of TTS. “I can change or reset a WatchGuard device anywhere while sitting at my desk here in Darwin. I just click a switch and it resets itself without someone having to go out and physically do it,” Cubillo enthuses. Three terminal servers, also located in Darwin, provide the entry point for remote users seeking to access to the IT system.

Users can access the system from anywhere, any time as long as they have an Internet connection. At CatholicCare's three most remote sites this is achieved using wireless communications. WatchGuard provides user authentication, ensuring no intruders gain access to the network.

All branches have access to documents via the central file server. Cubillo says. “Documents such as client files used to be put on desks, tossed in bins, saved on different desktops. All data is now in a central location, documents can be shared or we can put security around them.”

Although staff were sceptical about web filtering but the value has been proven by reducing Internet costs. Cubillo explains, “Once everything had been implemented we spoke to staff and gave a justification of why we were introducing filters. We explained what it meant and how it would be applied. They saw the broader picture and accepted it. At the end of the day an open Internet line such as we had before does cost the organisation quite a lot of money.”

Thousands of dollars in savings are also being generated by the new telephony system. “Previously we had a telecommunications system in each site. We make a considerable number of phone calls so invoices were quite high. Once we introduced VoIP, this dropped considerably. All the systems are set up in a virtual private branch exchange (PBX), so staff can call other branches without using the normal landline and without incurring the cost of an external phone call,” Cubillo says. The introduction of internal extension numbers has delivered additional time benefits, with staff no longer having to first go through a switchboard.

The sophisticated infrastructure has also brought personal change for Cubillo. “Before, if there were any problems I'd have to travel out to remote locations to fix them. That is, providing there weren't any floods and the roads were passable. It often involved being away over the weekend. Now, with WatchGuard we can do a lot of the maintenance and support locally. I spend less time travelling and have more proactive, productive time in the office. WatchGuard is doing the job really well,” he concludes.