Case study: Nexor dumps ageing proprietary operating system for open source OS

IT services company Nexor is migrating to the open source Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system for efficiency

A robust IT platform is critical for Nexor, which provides IT services and email gateways to defence and intelligence and government organisations. But the company was finding it increasingly difficult to deliver IT services and develop products on an ageing, proprietary operating system.

It overcame the IT limitations by migrating to the open source Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system (OS).

The Nottingham-based firm develops messaging and guard solutions for the defence and intelligence market. Its customers are both UK and global, and include government departments, transport organisations, the energy sector and police forces.

One of its key products, Nexor Sentinel, is a secure email gateway service that protects user organisations by validating inbound and outbound electronic messages to conform to the security policies of the protected domain.

The company’s IT platform connects, transforms and protects sensitive information on the web and provides capabilities for defence and intelligence, government and critical national infrastructure professionals to manage information exchange.

In addition to being highly available and secure, the email service and IT platform have to be compliant with the international standard for computer security and achieve the Common Criteria certification.

Evaluating open source security

To meet the stringent interoperability and email security requirements of its customers, the IT team has to constantly re-evaluate the products it uses. As a result, Nexor reviewed its ageing hardware and proprietary OS, which functioned as the underlying platform for its products.

It found that the existing, customised proprietary platform – consisting of BAE Systems’ STOP 6 operating system on BAE’s XTS-400 hardware – involved complex maintenance and had high associated overheads, such as the cost of training customers.

Recognising the limitations of developing products on an ageing, proprietary operating platform, it started evaluating alternative platforms. The IT team chose open source operating system Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

After internal testing and evaluation, the team ran a proof of concept to test the application with the latest version of Sentinel. The IT found that it had the ability to lock down and control information flow, thus delivering a secure solution that would operate with minimal downtime.

“The main benefit for us is that we have been able to move off a specialised, proprietary platform,” says Colin Robbins, technical director at Nexor. 

The company has also been able to drive efficiency in its production environment, he adds.

Efficiency, cost savings and customer satisfaction

Modernising the email product and gaining security certification was another major advantage of the new infrastructure. The new Sentinel 3E product, running on the Red Hat operating system, achieves Common Criteria EAL4 certification and delivers the level of control its customers need. 

“This certification will help us further penetrate the market,” says Robbins.

The email service can run faster and the build time for applications has been radically decreased, from three days on the old platform down to a few hours in the new one.

The operating system upgrade also resulted in increased interoperability with customers’ IT infrastructure, thereby reducing the need for retraining customers’ IT teams, says Robbins.

Nexor also selected Red Hat Satellite, a multi-client systems management solution, to automate system updates across its network.

Security updates can now be passed directly from Nexor’s Sentinel product to the customer – an improvement over the common model where customers must wait to receive a patch from the supplier, says Robbins. 

“This results in a simple, smooth and convenient model for product update delivery,” he adds.

The project has helped Nexor’s IT team to modernise its critical email service – Sentinel – and provide a highly secure, future-proof appliance for its military, intelligence and government customers globally.

The company is now looking to develop other software and services on the open source operating system for similar efficiency, cost savings and customer satisfaction.

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