Lifting remote security sky high at Continental

An airline lands hefty savings from a centralized interface for its varied remote-access methods.

Continental Airlines, in the air as well as in the corporate network, knows the importance of balancing security with convenience and low cost. That's why it flew at the chance to implement a new remote-access security scheme that provides all three in one neat package, earning recognition as a 2006 Enterprise All-Star winner in the process.

With more Continental employees working remotely and using more varied methods of access - from dial-up to broadband to wireless - keeping a handle on access costs while making sure security was becoming increasingly difficult. Employees working from home or remote offices were confused about the best way to get access, and many were inadvertently circumventing corporate security in their efforts to log on quickly and get the job done.

"People had so many icons on their desktops they didn't know which one to use," says Stacey Thomas, senior manager of telecommunications technology at the Houston-based airline. "They would have one for domestic, one for international, dial-up, broadband, wireless. With four or five choices, it got confusing."

In May 2004, the airline decided to implement Fiberlink Communications' Extend360 secure access software to ease remote access, while ensuring security and cost containment. Extend360 lets Continental build access policies and then lets employees use a single interface, or icon, for remote connectivity - no matter where or how they connect.

Extend360 supports broadband, dial-up, wide-area wireless (Code Division Multiple Access), Wi-Fi and hotel broadband. Via the policies, Continental can make sure remote employees use the most cost-efficient access methods available to them, as well. In addition, the software ensures that remote clients meet Continental's security policies in terms of up-to-date antivirus software, personal firewalls and other security measures.

Fiberlink's Endpoint Vulnerability Management feature is key, Thomas says. "We use it to make sure the remote user has the right SSL VPN client installed, and the latest software patches, antivirus and so on. We can push that right out to them now, and I know we've avoided a lot of headaches from viruses and downtime that way."

"... I know we've avoided a lot of headaches from viruses and downtime."

- Stacey thomas, senior manager of telecommunications technology, COntinental airlines

The greatest savings have come from access costs, Thomas says. Before implementing the Fiberlink software, the company had no clear idea who its users were or where they were accessing from, which made it extremely difficult to manage the extended enterprise.

Previously, Continental didn't have a way to give users unique personal identifiers or distinguish between business and personal use, Thomas says. As a result, she adds, Continental was funding a lot of personal use. "With Fiberlink, we can manage the process of individual cost centers, monitor remote-access cost trends and analyze charges to see if certain users should be reassigned to more optimal billing plans," she says.

Continental immediately saw a 20% cost savings, with Thomas reporting a one-year ROI of $1.2 million. The three-year ROI should hit $3.6 million, she says.

"The savings are phenomenal, but the biggest thing here is the control you get," Thomas says. "The reporting right to my desktop, as well as the management and control over the whole issue of remote access. It's something we never had before. We had no visibility. This is a huge improvement."

Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, Mass. She can be reached at jocummings@comcast.net.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.