FleetMatics’ Phil Fassnacht rolls out new branch locations within a month.
May 23 2011

What It Takes to Set Up Remote Offices

The right planning, equipment and partnerships make the establishment and management of branch offices a breeze.

Boston-based FleetMatics has to open branches fast to quickly leverage opportunities in new geographic markets. Fortunately, the three-person IT department for the fleet management software company has the routine down to a science.

Establish a Process

Following a carefully designed and finely tuned plan, 300-employee ­FleetMatics frequently goes live with new locations within a month, says Phil ­Fassnacht, IT director. The company maintains seven offices across the United States, with the number of employees ranging from fewer than 20 to about 70.

“The first thing we do after receiving a new location’s address is place the telecommunications order,” explains Fassnacht. “Telco comes first because it takes the longest to complete. To streamline the process, we use the same carrier in as many markets as possible.”

The next step is determining the functional areas (sales, customer service, operations) that will be represented in the remote office, which dictates the types of technologies Fassnacht rolls out. “During this phase, we look beyond the short term,” he says. “We envision the location in five or 10 years.”

After the staff completes the evaluation, Fassnacht obtains the needed equipment. “Early on, we’d purchase technology from whatever vendor could deliver it within our given timeline,” he says. “But we’d end up replacing it for various reasons. Now, we not only consider interoperability between offices, but we’ve also standardized equipment and vendors.”

Functionally, this means HP desktops with Cisco Systems and Avaya for Voice over IP and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-­capable telephony equipment. The WAN hardware includes SonicWALL TZ 210 routers, HP V1910-48G switches, HP ProCurve 3500-48 switches and a WAN optimization controller to maximize bandwidth and performance. A Barracuda Networks Backup Server 190 provides business continuity.

To administer branches efficiently from the company headquarters, FleetMatics uses network management software and a remote management solution. “The proper remote tools allow us to touch every desktop as if it were in the office next door,” Fassnacht says.

Other keys to deploying distant offices include tapping manufacturer partners for assistance and leveraging local talent to perform multiple functions. “For example, at three of our branch locations the local phone vendors also provide assistance with rolling out new desktops,” Fassnacht says.

Good Contractor Relations

Good working relationships with local contractors are also vital to branch office deployments for Headlands Asset Management, a 50-employee financial services firm in San Rafael, Calif.

Headlands, which maintains two branch offices — one in Santa Rosa, Calif., and another in New York City — actually treats its East Coast IT consultant more like an employee, says Aron Smetana, the company’s senior vice president and CIO.

“Even if we don’t need his services in a given month, we call monthly to keep him up to speed,” Smetana says of the contractor. “Then, when we do need him, he doesn’t have to reverse engineer anything.”

For the relatively nearby Santa Rosa ­office, Headlands’ in-house IT staff of seven completes branch office installation and management tasks. Between the headquarters and each of the two remote sites, Headlands uses multifunction Fortinet FortiGate devices to create secure virtual private network tunnels.

Smetana says Fortinet’s onboard capabilities streamline network management in combination with Headland’s IT strategy of centralizing event logging and using single sign-on for end-user authentication.

Headlands also runs a virtual Windows server in its New York office. It provides authentication for that location as well as replicating files to and from headquarters. “Having a server in the distant office gives me a landing pad for conducting remote diagnostics after hours,” he says.

When Going Remote, Keep It Simple

At 100-year-old Crookham, supporting about 20 home office and traveling employees has evolved from e-mail and telephone calls to utilizing some free client-based VPN solutions.

However, the specialized hybrid agricultural seed producer based in Caldwell, Idaho, needed a friendlier and more secure solution, says Kent Funkhouser, Crookham’s IT and electronics integration manager.

“We needed a solution that gave users access to all of their commonly used applications, folders and files right from their home page,” Funkhouser adds.

Crookham deployed the Barracuda SSL VPN 280 for its web interface with robust security features, such as enforceable policies, malware scanning and single sign-on. The Barracuda also offers capabilities for monitoring and auditing remote user actions, Funkhouser says.

As a one-person IT department, ­Funkhouser values Barracuda’s plug-and-play deployment. “Once it was configured, I sent some brief instructions to our remote users, and that was that,” Funkhouser says.

No matter the configuration Funkhouser offers this advice: “Enable your workforce, keep it secure and make it easy.”

Christopher Navin

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