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Exclusive: WatchGuard partner offers secure connectivity to remote communities

Exclusive: WatchGuard partner offers secure connectivity to remote communities

Testing harsh environments which take a toll on IT systems

Keeping the Aboriginal support organisation, Outback Stores, safe, secure and connected is no easy feat, according to Territory Technology Solutions’ (TTS) managing director, Michael Feldbauer, who is at the coalface of selling security solutions to remote locations. The 16-year-old company covers the Northern Territory, remote and regional SA, WA and QLD.

Feldbauer offered up key insights and lessons learned to partners attending the WatchGuard Elite OneVision conference in the Gold Coast about how to operate and succeed in the IT and network security industries.

Outback Stores is a Government-owned enterprise with an independent board, ensuring that Indigenous communities have access to constant and affordable food supplied including nutritious foods, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Feldbauer said the harsh environments that the company operates in takes a toll on sensitive computer equipment, and communication links to sites are often unreliable.

“A lot of these places get cut off for four to six months a year. You can only get in or out by a small aircraft. A number of them are on islands. Everything gets barged across. We can’t get to these sites on a regular basis.”

TTS, which has offices in Darwin and Alice Springs, has a partnership with Outback Stores to provide a secure connectivity solution to all remote stores and remote staff.

Indeed, TTS has done many “challenging and interesting” implementations of WatchGuard technology in the Northern Territory, Feldbauer explained.

In the case of Outback Stores, there’s a lot involved as TTS is providing connectivity for 39 sites across NT, SA, QLD and WA. The team is utilising satellite, 4G and ADSL services for connectivity in remote sites. There is 50Mbit fibre service in use at head office, and the company provides a fully managed secure IPSEC connectivity between sites.

Feldbauer said the work is so vital because the stores are the peoples’ lifeline, providing everything for the remote community.

“The stores are everything in the community and obviously very important that they maintain connectivity. They provide food, clothing, whitegoods and coffins. So we are dealing with essentially the basics in these communities.”

He said TTS uses the WatchGuard management server to provide real-time management of all connected devices, and all WebBlocker, firewall and content policies are centrally managed.

“We provide web filtering and content filtering. In a lot of these areas they are in a prohibition area so no alcohol and no pornography. Because they are a federal-funded organisation, the government mandates an audit. They have to send out a USB stick; they have to audit all of the machines and make sure there’s no pornography being downloaded,” he said.

But TTS has been able to uncover a better way of ensuring compliance.

“Because of the very tight rules and controls on the firewall, we’ve been able to get around that, which is a huge saving in manpower because we’ve been able to show the Federal Government that they can’t access porn.”

Looking at the job overall, he said the biggest challenge is the harsh environment, the unpredictable weather systems, as well as having to deal with the mountains of dust and flies. He said it’s amazing the equipment is able to function as well as it does.

“In the grand scheme of things, with 39 stores (and we look after another organisation with 27), we’ve had no end-point failures. We’ve had a few that have woken up a little bit confused every now and then because power is not particularly flash either, but my staff can actually walk the remote site staff through a recertification, and a reload and configuration.”

Indeed, keeping the systems secure and up and running can have deadly consequences if not done properly, he added.

“No food, no money, nothing on my basics card, then there’s a riot. I don’t mean people get around and punch each other up. I mean there are axes, knives, chunks of steel. Not a really good place to be, so it’s very important for us to make sure these things work.”

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