Reading FC keeps email under control

When Reading FC won promotion to the Premiership in 2006, the whole club had to step up several gears including the IT department.

When Reading FC won promotion to the Premiership in 2006, the whole club had to step up several gears. As well as building up its playing squad to take on the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, it also had to equip itself for new business opportunities.

For IT manager Gary Hanson, it also meant new demands on the IT infrastructure, notably security. "Suddenly we had to build a new warehouse to handle merchandise, and whereas we used to have just one guy down at the training ground, we now have 28 to 30, all of whom need to communicate with the rest of the club."

Reading survived its first year in the Premiership, and so during the summer break last year, Hanson went out searching for security equipment to support the new demands on his systems. At the time he had some ageing Cisco PIX firewalls that still worked but required knowledge of their command-line interface, which meant Hanson himself always had to be available to make any changes. He needed to find something that not only did the job, but would also be easy to manage.

With just two weeks to make a choice, he went to a trade show and tried to get demos from a collection of firewall manufacturers – with disappointing results. "I spoke to about four of them, and asked them to show me their interface and demonstrate how their systems worked. They just weren't interested," he recalls. Cisco did not exhibit at the show, so that ruled them out as well (and who says trade shows don't matter?).

The one company that seemed willing and able to demonstrate the kind of systems he was looking for was SonicWall, which offered unified threat management (UTM) appliances and central management software. A quick demonstration of the features convinced him it was what he needed.

At the same time, he had been using an email management service from Blackspider, which had been bought by Surfcontrol (itself later acquired by Websense), and this was proving unsatisfactory. "As soon as we got into the Premiership, our levels of spam went up by about 30 to 40%, and more than 90% of our incoming mail was spam," he says. He felt the service coming from his service provider was deteriorating, so he switched to Email Systems (now owned by Webroot) which he says now blocks virtually all spam, and prevents his own bandwidth getting clogged with unwanted messages.

Before the start of the 2007/8 season, he installed a SonicWall appliance at each of the club's three sites The appliances communicate with each other via VPN tunnels, and handle anti-virus, intrusion detection and prevention, and do email scanning. "It took me just two days to get everything installed and to set up the firewall rules," says Hanson. He maintains the spam filtering service from Webroot, in order to keep down bandwidth requirements, but also has filtering on the UTM appliances as a second layer of defence.

The three appliances are managed using the SonicWall Global Management System (GMS), which is accessed via a web-based GUI. This means that Hanson can monitor the club's security systems from wherever he happens to be. GMS is used for reporting and auditing of security events, collating log data and also producing real-time alerts via email.

The appliances also come ready to handle VoIP as well, but he has not used this feature, preferring to use an outsourced managed service which is just being rolled out across the club. "We looked at several in-house solutions and managed services, and security was very high on my list, as VoIP can be vulnerable," says Hanson.

He has also implemented a VPN to provide secure remote access for the Club's senior executives, as well as creating secure links for the Club's partner organisations. "The Club's senior staff are often extremely mobile, and the football industry is a round-the-clock business," he says. "SonicWall's NetExtender allows our chief executive or finance director to work remotely in exactly the same way as if they were in the office, and it is extremely simple for them to use."

He cites one recent example when the finance director used the VPN to dial in from Singapore to check how ticket sales were going for a game against Manchester United.

He says the reporting function of the systems allow him to prove the value of the investment to his board members. "I can provide graphs and pie charts easily from the system and it means they can see the benefits it's delivering."

Read more on Network security management