How a Baptist pastor in Florida became the go-to IT guy

NorthRidge Church pastor Terrill Gilley installs security gateways, watches for network attacks

As a Baptist pastor, Terrill Gilley says his work calls for him to help worshippers and provide support to the senior pastor at his Florida church located in a rural area outside Orlando. And oh, he's also the network administrator for the church and the school it established.

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"When I took over for the guy who left, we had 10 users sharing a network," says Gilley, who has education in theology but picked up knowledge about information technology mostly as he went about expanding the network for NorthRidge Church and Christian Academy in Haines City, Fla., over the past five years. It's now wireless, connected to a wireline backbone supporting about 300 students and teachers in the school and the church, with Internet access, email and applications for school administration. His humble title as net admin doesn't fully describe his role, which includes network design and configuration, vendor negotiations, security and trouble resolution.

Budget constraints precluded NorthRidge from bringing in full-time IT staff, but Gilley appears to be rising to the challenge as he makes information-technology choices based on the budget and approval process in the church. Gilley, who administers passwords to students even as he ministers to the church flock, acknowledges he's glad to be able to make use of cloud-based services for some things.

Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) offering has been useful, especially with its special pricing for not-for-profit organizations at $2.50 per mailbox per month. "It's been reliable, and includes Forefront security built-in," Gilley says. But he's not looking forward to the migration to Microsoft's updated platform, Office 365.

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NorthRidge also uses cloud-based application services from ACS Technologies with its applications for school and church administration that were once only available as programs that ran on servers locally. Switching to cloud-based services turned out to be an advantage when the church suffered a fire a few years ago, Gilley says.

But NorthRidge also operates its own network, and within the last two years Gilley deployed the Sophos Astaro Security Gateway, a combined firewall, VPN, Web and e-mail gateway. NorthRidge also uses a wireless network based on Astaro Access Points. Gilley says he sought out a technology partner to help administer the security gateway, but being in a fairly remote rural area made it difficult to find. But he says the business partnership he established with firm Data Integrity in Lakeland is working out, since the company has been amenable to the idea of sharing technical duties with him.

"It's a trust issue," Gilley says. He undertakes security-event monitoring, noting the barrage of daily attacks bouncing off the gateway every day, from all around the world.

New pleas for more technology keep coming in. Now it's iPhones, which Gilley would like to sync up with an older Microsoft server for e-mail, but is having trouble doing. But for Gilley, figuring out what to do next often simply seems to be a matter of faith.

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