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Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc. Thin Client Solution Achieving robust data security and flexibility to enable mobile work / Combining Virtual PC Center thin client and VPN systems solves two conflicting challenges

photo:Mr. Takayuki Moriguchi

Mr. Osamu Abe

Leader of Information Asset Management Group

General Affairs Division

Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc.

"Since the same office working environment can now be accessed while away from of the office, the work style of our sales professionals has changed and we are now able to provide more prompt customer service."
photo:Mr. Yukio Mori

Mr. Satoshi Innami

Chief, Leader of Information System Team

Information Asset Management Group

General Affairs Division

Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc.

"NEC was always quick to respond to our inquiries and their proposals were based on our requirements."
photo:Mr. Yukio Mori

Mr. Yuichi Ueto

Information System Team

Information Asset Management Group

General Affairs Division

Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc.

"Our ideas directly influenced product features. This was an exceptional experience which I've never had with other manufacturers. I was impressed by the extent to which NEC respected the users' voice"

Background

Management demands higher data security while voices from the field seek flexible access to the company network

Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc. (HOTnet) is a power company-associated telecommunications carrier based in Hokkaido, the second largest island and northernmost, largest prefecture in Japan. HOTnet contributes to the development of local telecommunications by providing home and enterprise network services as well as the digital broadcasting network for five private broadcasters. The company is currently expanding its operations into other prefectures following the success of its new platform business which places data center services at the core.

Services of telecommunication companies require extremely high availability. In the case of HOTnet, the network system is under 24 x 365 monitoring. To further provide for emergencies, the company was also considering a new working environment to enable 40 of their sales force and engineers to quickly respond to customers regardless of time and location.

However, solid data security is also an imperative for a telecommunication carrier. Mr. Osamu Abe underlines that secure information management is a matter of business survival. "Even though we encrypted communications for security, there was still a possibility of losing a notebook terminal with customer information. Such a case must be reported to the government and would lead to the loss of credibility," points out Mr. Abe. Therefore, while the company acknowledged the necessity of enabling a time- and location-free work style with access to the same office working environment, login to the company network from outside the office was restricted to checking e-mail.

However, even such limited mobile use still involved security risks of information remaining on terminals and allowing access to the company network from outside. Furthermore, a mobile work environment with only email access had its limits. "At the time, the company's risk management committee lead by the CEO called for enhancement of data security while representatives of the sales force were pleading for a flexible 24-hour mobile working environment," recalls Mr. Satoshi Innami.

Installation Process

Why NEC? – Planned incremental deployment of VPN and Virtual PC Center thin client systems from a single source

In order to build a remote access environment which offers the security level required for a telecommunications company and increases the range of mobile work, HOTnet compared solutions from several venders. Their final choice was NEC's thin client remote access solution – Virtual Private Network (VPN) and thin client systems from a single source.

The solution primarily consists of two systems.

SecureBranch* VPN appliance system delivers secure remote access. Features include a kernel firewall function which blocks free access to the internet from non-office locations and a terminal identification function which only approves access to registered terminals. "For enhanced security, the firewalls must always be up. This solution uses the callback connection – a VPN connection is activated from the server side for the terminal outside the company network without making a hole in the firewall. Other manufacturers' proposals did not include such function," recalls Mr. Innami about the selection process.

The other half of the solution is the Virtual PC Center thin client system. The system virtualizes each user's PC environment, independently runs the OS and applications on the server and transfers the display to the thin client terminals. Users are able to work in their own PC environment with no local storage through the company network regardless of time and location. While providing the convenience of individual desktop environments, it delivers security benefits such as avoiding the risk of information leakage from terminals and rejecting the unauthorized addition of applications through centralized management.

According to Mr. Abe, the reason for choosing NEC as vender was clear. "We perceived that the VPN function and thin client system were closely tied together. Therefore we were looking for a vender like NEC which could provide the complete solution – both systems and the necessary support. We also took into account that NEC is a Japanese vendor from which we could expect high quality support. Furthermore, NEC was quick to respond to our inquiries and their proposals were based on our requirements. NEC was able to alleviate our concerns about the deployment"

For example, NEC implemented the system under an incremental deployment plan while maintaining the vision of the complete system design. To be specific, SecureBranch was deployed first to build a secure remote access environment using existing notebooks. Then, to complete the system, deployment of Virtual PC Center followed. Such flexible deployment is only possible when the VPN and thin client systems are provided from a single source. NEC was capable of providing the total solution with its own products and services.

System Overview

Remote access to virtual PCs through VPN – a platform for 24 x 365 response to customers

The remote access environment has been in full use since December 2009. Through VPN connections to the Virtual PC Center thin client system, the office working environment can now be accessed while on the move and on business trips.

The system design of HOTnet's solutionThe system design of HOTnet's solution

Forty thin client notebook terminals (US60**) were adopted for the sales force and engineers. A virtual PC environment for every user was consolidated onto NEC Express5800/R120a-1 servers and an NEC Storage D3-10 array. The management server is an NEC Express5800/320Fd-LR. This high scalability and availability configuration will support replacement of the existing desktop PCs with thin client terminals well into the future.

Virtual PCs are managed by the integrated management software SigmaSystemCenter installed onto the management server. "With Virtual PC Center, software and patches can be centrally managed to significantly reduce management workloads. The intuitive GUI also simplifies administrative settings for operators. Such a user-friendly thin client system can likely be managed even by companies without dedicated IT staff," remarks Mr. Yuichi Ueto.

Through NEC's effort to constantly respect users' voices, the remote access environment has continued its evolution since its deployment. For example, features of the latest version of NEC's SecureBranch already reflect several items from HOTnet's feedback. "Our ideas directly influenced product features. This was an exceptional experience I've never had with other manufacturers," favorably expresses Mr. Ueto.

Installation Results and Future Benefits

Mobile thin clients enable 24-hour response to improve the quality of customer service

The deployment of the system has brought many benefits to HOTnet.

First, building a robust data security system has prevented information leakage through centralized IT system control. This accomplishment has received high marks from HOTnet's risk management committee.

Second, the range of work for the mobile staff has increased through access to the company business applications over the network. The company's primary sales territory is Hokkaido, an extremely vast region. Mr. Abe mentions extensive travelling time of the sales force can now be used productively. "Currently our business is spreading beyond the island and trips to other regions are increasing. Efficient use of the long travel times had been a growing issue. Now that the company's groupware and file server can be accessed while on the move, the sales force can always share schedules and information, enabling them to work on common ground with other members in the office. Materials and reports can be completed while away from the office. The improvement in work efficiency will by no doubt drastically change the work style of our sales force for the better."

Third, the remote access environment enhances the quality of service to customers. "Now that the order management system can be accessed from outside the office, order entries can be completed immediately. Previously, when order entries could be only processed from the office, service start dates would sometimes be delayed, particularly when contracts were signed during long business trips. Now, service can be provided much more swiftly to improve customer satisfaction" explains Mr. Abe.

The transformation has made the thin client remote access solution an essential operational platform for the company's business. Projects to expand the system continue. Based on careful analysis of the present system, HOTnet is considering replacement of office desktops with thin client terminals.

Opinions of NEC Staff

Creating a robust solution by the synergy of VPN and VPCC systems

photo:Mr. Rei Shimamori

Satoru Shimamori

Manager

Project Promotion Department

NEC Net Innovation, Ltd.

Fully understanding the customer's needs is an important factor in building a system. From this point of view, we started from carefully listening to our customer's requests. Then, taking all the information into consideration, the details such as scale, reliability, scalability, and cost were determined for our proposal.

 

For example, because HOTnet mentioned plans to replace desktops with thin clients in the future we selected servers and storage with scalability to suit future system expansion. As well as features related to functions and management capabilities, HOTnet's request to build a system with high usability was achieved through repeated, detailed discussions. Through such an approach, we support our customers to create a system to meet their needs.

 

SecureBranch, an impressive product with NEC engineered features such as kernel firewall and call-back connection, provides unmatched benefits over traditional remote access appliances. Its originality and progressiveness continues to evolve, making it a product suitable to recommend to other customers as well.

 

The features of Virtual PC Center are also exceptional – superior data security is realized because local storage and external devices (e.g. USB memory) are not allowed on terminals, enhanced productivity is achieved through high mobility which enables work regardless of time and location, and centralized management reduces IT administrator workload. With Virtual PC Center, the work style of employees will change and enterprises will obtain a foundation for additional benefits such as business continuity.

 

The thin client remote access solution creates a working environment with higher security and mobility by combining SecureBranch and Virtual PC Center. Furthermore, this solution can be deployed incrementally as we did for HOTnet. HOTnet's project gave me the opportunity to further understand how flexible deployment can be an important feature to our customers.

*    SecureBranch is an NEC VPN appliance supported in Japan only.
SecureBranch is a registered trademark of NEC Corporation in Japan and U.S.A.

**    The notebook terminal available in regions other than Japan is US40a.

Related Links

Customer profile

Hokkaido Telecommunication Network Co., Inc.

Address Tsukamoto Bld. Kita 1, 2-5-3 Kita 1 Jo Higashi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo City, Japan photo
Established April 1989
Capital 5.9 billion yen
Employees 201 (October 2009)
Primary Businesses

Telecommunication services

A power company-associated telecommunications carrier based in Hokkaido providing telecommunication infrastructure and services. Current business focus is providing business support solutions such as the overall network system solution (S.T.E.P.) which includes server platform services. It also plays an important role in the coming transition to terrestrial digital broadcasting.

URL http://www.hotnet.co.jp/ (Japanese)

(Mar. 19, 2010)