Disaster recovery, security drive financial firm to Private IP

A Florida financial firm picked a Private IP line to connect its 43 branch offices, build a disaster recovery site, and secure customer information. Also, the company will now have fewer management headaches.

Being in the heart of hurricane country, odds are that having a disaster recovery plan is not just an afterthought, but a way of life.

Add to that the need to keep customers' financial records under lock and key, thanks to Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) compliance regulations, and you need a darn secure pipe to transfer information. (SOX is legislation enacted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to protect financial information.)

It was precisely those two needs -- disaster recovery and compliance -- that led Clearwater, Fla.-based Nicholas Financial, a financer of consumer auto loans, to tap the newly formed Verizon Business to install, oversee and manage the connections for Nicholas' branch offices with its Private IP network. The network securely transfers customer loan information among all 43 offices in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia.

Nicholas Financial CIO Michael Marika said the company was in the line of some vicious hurricanes two years ago, and then came Katrina, which hit close enough that the storm's whipping winds brought thoughts of disaster recovery.

"That really made us take stock of our disaster recovery plan," he said.

Marika and the IT staff are charged with supporting 225 users, writing application software on a UNIX platform, and all other day-to-day network operations.

"Before, we did it all," he said.

But, as the company continued to grow, the needs did as well. And with that growth came management difficulties, high costs and other hindrances.

"Our auto financing business has grown dramatically, and we simply don't have the time to handle our network operations," Marika said. "In addition, with Private IP, we have peace of mind knowing that our network is secure, reliable and flexible enough to better serve our customers and support our future business decisions. That all fits in with our strategy of carefully managing growth. Ultimately, though, it was Verizon Business' unparalleled level of service that sealed the deal."

Marika said Nicholas Financial wanted to be able to pick up the phone for support and service. The company wanted a complete end-to-end option.

Now, Nicholas financial has a matching set of servers for disaster recovery at a site in Tampa, Fla. If the headquarters' network goes down or there is a problem, someone can call over and fire up the disaster recovery site for seamless continuity.

"If a hurricane hits us and we go down, we're covered," Marika said.

And on the security front, the isolation of Verizon Business' Private IP lines, instead of public lines, gives Marika peace of mind.

"When you're dealing with people's financial information, security is very important," he said. "Private IP is isolated and separate from the public. That information is much more protected."

Marika said Nicholas Financial took a piecemeal approach to the migration to Private IP. The process took several months, converting branch offices in groups of four or five at a time. There were no major hang-ups.

Private IP, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., is Verizon Business' flagship MPLS-based VPN offering and its fastest growing service, which includes flexibility, any-to-any IP routing, and service agreements to carry security data, voice and video traffic.

Verizon Business said the offering was a solid option for Nicholas Financial, because the company was looking to offload some of its network management burden.

"Customer privacy and security are critical to Nicholas Financial's success," Steve Young, group president for Verizon Business commercial accounts, said in a statement. "Verizon Business is helping Nicholas Financial evolve its network to achieve new cost savings and capabilities while achieving its security objectives. By managing the network from end to end, we assume the total cost of ownership and enable Nicholas Financial to focus on its customers."

Yesterday, Verizon Business announced new additions to its Private IP service, which will be available next month. The enhancements, a set of network-based application aware networking tools, include network assessment and reporting capabilities along with network monitoring, bandwidth optimizing, and packet-marking tools.

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