Case Study: Virtual Private Network

By moving its mainly mobile workforce to a virtual private network, US accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen saved money while...

By moving its mainly mobile workforce to a virtual private network, US accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen saved money while increasing productivity

Since the Big Six consolidation occurred, Ken Thygesen likes to boast that McGladrey & Pullen is the sixth largest accounting firm in the US. But if McGladrey & Pullen, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, wants to play in the big league, Thygesen knows the company's network infrastructure must offer first-class support to its 3,300 employees around the country, most of which are mobile.

To keep up with technology, McGladrey & Pullen recently replaced its direct-dial RAS infrastructure with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The VPN, which supports as many as 2,700 mobile or remote users, is based on AT&T WorldNet's Virtual Private Network Service (VPNS). VPNS provides secure remote access to corporate local and wide area networks, intranets and extranets.

The VPN rollout replaced a patchwork of dial-up centres with remote-access servers ( each with different configurations and equipment. By moving to a standardised VPN setup, the company enjoys economies of scale. The goal is to give remote users the same capabilities they would have if they were connected to the office LAN. Remote users at McGladrey & Pullen usually connect to the network using Toshiba SatellitePro notebooks with 233MHz Pentium processors.

Thygesen's team took advantage of the accounting world's summer doldrums to start the rollout. The first step was replacing the company's Lotus cc:Mail dial-up email server with IP dial-up connections. The old system was adequate for sending and receiving email, but IP dial-up offers more.

"We considered building our own dial-up centre, but we aren't a 24-hour operation and we support people across the country in different time zones. It became pretty clear that some sort of outsourcing would make a lot of sense for us," Thygesen recalls.

McGladrey & Pullen considered both AT&T's VPNS and MCI WorldCom's managed services. AT&T won because it allowed the firm to leverage its existing wide area network. WorldCom Advanced Networks wanted to use its own T1 line. That made a real difference to Thygesen who supports a variety of locations that have between 25 and 300 people. "Often we dedicate eight channels of T1 access to voice and two to eight channels to data. We wanted to make sure the system worked well with the system we already had in place."

AT&T also agreed to bill McGladrey & Pullen by the hour, something WorldCom Advanced Networks refused to do. By using per hour billing, the firm pays for what it uses ( nothing more. "I don't have to worry whether a particular employee used up his 10 hours this month," Thygesen says. "It's a shared pool of time. It saves a lot of money and it's much more efficient."

Thygesen also found that the technology changes resulted in cost savings. "In our cc:Mail layout, we had a post office in every office with modems hanging off of them." But with the new VPN, the firm has gone to a central server to which everybody connects.

Explains Thygesen, "It really helps reduce our costs. Because we can keep the technology at a central site; we don't have to disperse it to manage it."

Compiled by Ajith Ram

( Petersen Co

This was last published in September 1999

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