Change often is necessary. But, unmonitored, it can wreak havoc on systems and processes. For Irving, Calif.-based Western United Insurance Co. ($150 million in premium income), a subsidiary of the California State Automobile Association, the unexpected consequences of a network upgrade created an expensive problem.
After updating its network in early 2004 to Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Windows 2003, Western United, a paperless company specializing in auto insurance, began suffering from problems with its Microsoft Exchange mail server, recalls Jarrad Winter, network security manager for the carrier. Within a 90-day period, the mail server went down three times for a total of more than six days. "It was costing the company $500,000 a day," he relates.
After extensive examination, Winter realized the problem was not with Exchange; rather, the cause was a change to the infrastructure of Active Directory, a component of the Windows platform that manages the identities and relationships that make up network environments. The changes in Active Directory integrated Exchange, which previously operated as a stand-alone application, into the network environment, Winter explains. As a result, any misconfiguration in Active Directory can crash the mail server.
Seeking a way to track network changes, Winter conducted a Google search and began evaluating solutions. After testing several vendors' products, Winter selected the NetPro Management Suite from Phoenix-based NetPro in the second quarter of 2004. On the same day that he signed the purchase order, Winter received a Web link through which he downloaded the software (he later received a copy on CD). He installed the software on a dedicated Compaq DL360 server from HP (Palo Alto, Calif.). "It was the easiest install (of enterprise-level) software I've ever done," he says, adding that it took him less than a day to complete.
The NetPro Management Suite features six modules, including a ChangeAuditor module, which identifies who makes a change; Directory Analyzer and DNSAnalyser, which notify network administrators of problems in real time; and a security module that alerts Winter of network breaches. He notes that the software is pretty self-explanatory and he required less than five minutes of training.
According to Winter, the NetPro Management Suite has three key features. First, the software allows network administrators to view every single change in Active Directory in a user-friendly format. Second, it includes troubleshooting tools that check for misconfigurations and monitor settings to make sure they conform to Microsoft's recommended best practices. And, finally, the product alerts network administrators via e-mails if something goes wrong. "The e-mail will also tell them where to go to fix the problem," Winter adds. "Now we don't have to wait for something to break."
Winter points out that the solution has lowered employee stress, eliminated hours of problem solving and saved the company $50,000 to $60,000 an hour in downtime. He says he is amazed that the NetPro Management Suite cost just $8,000 for 500 user licenses - a mere .0001 percent of Western United's IT budget. The price included all six modules, free upgrades and tech support, Winter notes. "In the past, we've paid $120,000 for other software that wasn't nearly this good."
Case Study Profile
Company: Western United Insurance Company (Irving, Calif.; $150 million in premium income), a subsidiary of San Francisco-based California State Automobile Association.
Lines Of Business: Personal lines auto, homeowners and umbrella.
Vendor/Technology: NetPro's (Phoenix) NetPro Management Suite.
Challenge: Eliminate network configuration problems that caused downtime with Microsoft's (Redmond, Wash.) Exchange mail server.