Redeeming the Past
- From The Confident SMB, January 2010 Issue (Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
One of the harshest and most remote places on earth, the Pribilof Islands lie in the Bering Sea, 200 miles north of the Aleutian Islands and 750 air miles west of Anchorage, Alaska. The four small islands serve as a summer breeding ground for northern fur seals and other sea mammals, as well as dozens of species of birds.
Today, about 500 descendants of Aleut slaves who harvested seals for the fur trade live on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs. When the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act became law in 1971, Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX) was formed to provide economic well being for the village.
Expanding commerce beyond the village
Tanadgusix means “our land” in the Aleut language, and the first order of business for TDX was to bring basic services to its own community. “Being a remote village in the middle of nowhere, we had to develop our own services, as large corporations didn’t want to come here,” explains Ron Philemonoff, TDX’s chairman and CEO. “Later, we used the experience we gained to expand our businesses beyond St. Paul.”
For example, electricity previously cost an exorbitant 45 cents a kilowatt hour on the island. “We recognized that we have some of the best winds in the world, so we developed our own wind farm,” Philemonoff quips. “Now, TDX Power develops energy projects across the country.”
Similarly, nature-loving tourists to St. Paul initially got TDX into the hospitality business, and the firm now has hotels in Anchorage and the Pacific Northwest. TDX began doing environmental cleanup when petroleum products left by the U.S. military were found to be seeping into St. Paul’s water table; this resulted in the formation of Bering Sea Eccotech, which now provides environmental services nationwide.
And the history of TDXNet, the company’s IT services subsidiary, can be traced back to TDX’s efforts to bring telephone, cable TV, and Internet services to St. Paul in the 1990s.
Rebuilding IT from scratch
TDXNet itself is a relatively new subsidiary, having spun off from the parent company six years ago. When TDX veteran and board member Julie Shane was named president of TDXNet in 2007, she assumed charge of a company that was still struggling to get off the ground. “Even the other subsidiaries of TDX were not using our IT services,” Shane recalls, “because the infrastructure just wasn’t there yet.”
There was no standardization across the subsidiaries of TDX, or even within them. “Every group had a different email system—EarthLink, AOL, you name it,” Shane relates. “With hardware, each purchase was whatever was cheapest at the time. And antivirus was whatever came with each machine.
“In the two-plus years I’ve been here,” Shane continues, “we’ve standardized everything. Employees at each of our subsidiaries now use a common email system. Our hardware is now standardized. We now provide a high level of security; in fact, we have some subsidiaries that are doing top secret government work in other parts of the country, and we’re still able to take care of them. And our data is backed up dependably.”
The first challenge presented to Shane was to provide IT security for TDX Power, which needed to meet the strict requirements of a new job as subcontractor to a major aeronautics company on a project at Fort Greely, Alaska.
“We got rid of the hodgepodge of servers at our corporate office, bought brand new ones from HP, and brought enough capacity online to eventually connect all of the TDX subsidiaries to one system,” Shane explains. “I wasn’t even worried about outside business at the time; I was focused on standardizing everything for the 20-plus subsidiaries of TDX.”
Bringing together an effective team
Shane’s team engaged Symantec Gold Partner Advanced Internet Security, Inc. (AIS) to assist with the next phase of this crucial standardization initiative: building a scalable and effective infrastructure for messaging, security, and data protection.
Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, AIS is a small, veteran-owned firm providing IT services to small and midsize businesses and local governments across the United States. “One thing we’re known for is our willingness to go to out-of-the-way places,” says AIS President Gary Cannon, “and we have worked with several customers in remote parts of Alaska.”
After assessing the situation, the AIS team recommended the deployment of Symantec security and data protection solutions for the new hardware infra-structure and a new Microsoft Exchange email system.“TDXNet previously didn’t have a standardized infrastructure, and we knew that these solutions would address their technical needs and improve efficiency,” states David Kramer, vice president of AIS.
Not long after AIS began its work, Steve Vandagriff began as director of Enterprise Operations for TDXNet. During 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, Vandagriff served in a variety of IT and project management roles. “I’m an avid outdoorsman and my wife grew up in Alaska, so Anchorage was the natural place for us to settle after the military,” he relates. Prior to joining TDXNet, he worked for several years for Science Applications International Corp., providing IT services to the oil industry in Anchorage, and also from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez along the Trans Alaska Pipeline.
“With TDXNet, I could see there was an opportunity to have a ground zero impact on bringing best practices to all of TDX,” he recalls. “And I knew that working to benefit the St. Paul Aleut community—people whose faces I know—would be far more rewarding. So, in September 2008, I came on board, and we hit the ground running.”
Standardizing and consolidating
Vandagriff’s first day on the job involved flying to St. Paul with Kramer, who was just beginning the deployment phase of the project. “I was fortunate to be able to get to know David and some of the folks at St. Paul in my first few days,” Vandagriff says. “It got several key partnerships off to a good start.”
The TDXNet and AIS teams worked together to deploy the email system, protected by Symantec Protection Suite Enterprise Edition, and subsequently deployed a data protection and disaster recovery strategy based on Symantec Backup Exec and Backup Exec System Recovery (see sidebar “Rolling Out the Solution”).
The entire transition took less than six months, and it was an eventful time. “Between business development trips and implementing the solution at our remote sites, I was traveling a lot in those days,” Vandagriff recalls.
It was a busy time for Kramer and the AIS team as well. “I made only two trips to Anchorage and one to St. Paul during the project, and I did the rest of the work remotely,” Kramer reports. “The project has gone well, and the TDXnet team has been very good to work with.”
Looking to the future
TDXNet recently acquired its second private sector customer outside of the TDX organization, and it is preparing for rapid growth in its IT services business. “One area we’re looking at expanding into is managed services,” Vandagriff explains. “If we do move in that direction, we’re going to strongly recommend an environment based on Symantec solutions to our clients. It’s what we’re familiar with, and it’s what we know to be effective.”
“In addition, we’re certified in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program,” Shane adds. “This enables us to compete for government contracts alongside larger corporations. I expect this to bring us a lot of additional business. We’re starting to spread our wings.”
Shane, who is a member of the St. Paul Aleut community, could not be prouder of the progress the company has made. “Our charter is to bring economic benefit to our people. Because of our background, we have become a very resourceful tribe, and we have expanded into many successful businesses ventures. I’m proud of the part I have played in that success.”
Slaves of the Harvest: The Story of the St. Paul Aleuts
Descendants of Asians who crossed the Bering Land Bridge 10,000 years ago, the Aleuts lived peacefully for centuries until Russian sailors first encountered the islands in 1741. Others followed, attracted by the abundance of seals and other sea mammals with their valuable fur.
The small Aleut population was quickly forced into slavery—harvesting furs that their captors sold to Russian and Chinese merchants. After Russian sailors discovered the Pribilof Islands, the seals’ summer breeding ground, Aleut slaves were brought there to work the harvest.
In 1867, the United States purchased the territory of Alaska from Russia, but the lives of the Aleuts did not change much. Interested in tax revenue derived from the fur trade, the government contracted with a private firm to administer the seal harvest, and later administered it through the Department of the Interior. While their official status was as paid laborers, the Aleuts of St. Paul were not allowed most basic freedoms for much of the next 80 years.
When the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands during the Second World War, the U.S. government evacuated all Aleuts and settled them in internment camps on islands in southeastern Alaska. They were deposited in remote, wet, and densely forested terrain with few structures and no basic living facilities. Disease was rampant, and an estimated 10 percent of the population died during their three-year stay.
Discovery of oil on Alaska’s North Slope and plans for a new pipeline made the settlement of Alaska Native land claims more urgent. In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which transferred land titles to 212 Alaska Native Village Corporations and mineral rights to 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations.
The U.S. government left St. Paul Island in 1984, and the close-knit community has been able to build an economy based on fish processing, ecotourism, and income from Tanadgusix Corporation’s far-flung enterprises.
Rolling Out the Solution
The team at Advanced Internet Security, Inc. (AIS) deployed Symantec security solutions concurrently with a new Microsoft Exchange email system and Active Directory domain that brought all of the subsidiaries of TDX together into one network for the first time. Vandagriff and other TDXNet staff traveled to each remote site to deploy the new system, between mid-September 2008 and early January 2009.
Implementing messaging security
With the deployment of the Exchange server, TDXNet also deployed Symantec Brightmail Gateway. TDXNet had just begun virtualizing its server environment, so AIS deployed Brightmail on a VMware ESX server running on HP hardware. “It was my first deployment of Brightmail to a virtual server, and it went smoothly,” recalls David Kramer, vice president at AIS.
The results were dramatic and immediate. “With more than 88 percent of our total incoming email being spam, filtering that content at the gateway makes for a more stable system overall,” says Steve Vandagriff, director of Enterprise Operations at TDXNet. “It has saved our employees a lot of time in finding the legitimate messages among the many unwanted ones.”
A Business Value Analysis study by The Alchemy Solutions Group projects nearly $2.5 million in business value over three years through improved end-user productivity as a result of the Brightmail deployment.
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Securing the endpoint
As each location was connected to the Exchange environment, the AIS team deployed Symantec Endpoint Protection to all local desktops and laptops. In addition to the virus and spyware protection, the TDXNet team is using the product’s desktop firewall and behavior-based intrusion prevention features.
“Before we consolidated systems and deployed Symantec, we had two employees who would spend five hours each per day dealing with virus issues across our multiple systems,” Shane recalls. “Today, those employees spend two hours per week, at a maximum, on these tasks.” This is projected to yield more than more than $240,000 in business value for TDX over three years, according to the Business Value Analysis study.
Protecting critical data
Previously, backups across the TDX organization were sporadic at best. “Each location had its own solution and its own policies,” Vandagriff states. “We were flying through the air without a net, which made me nervous, and we were spending a lot of extra staff time as well.”
In January 2009, while the TDXNet team was deploying the messaging and security infrastructure at the last few remote sites, the AIS team kicked off the deployment of Symantec Backup Exec and Backup Exec System Recovery Server Edition.
Backup Exec was implemented in a disk-to-disk-to-tape architecture. Weekly full backups and nightly increments are going to an HP file server for two weeks, and then transferred to tape.
“We’re currently backing up 2½ terabytes of data from our Exchange, application, and file servers—including our four VMware machines,” Vandagriff notes. The results are impressive: the Business Value Analysis study projects more than $115,000 in IT staff time savings in backup administration over three years.
Providing for disaster recovery
“Backup Exec System Recovery is hitting our critical servers for disaster recovery,” Vandagriff continues. “Thankfully, we have not experienced a crisis yet. But David Kramer of AIS came back up this past summer to do a health check as to where we were. We actually restored our domain controller, restored our Exchange server, and created a lab environment based off of recoveries from Backup Exec System Recovery. It brings a lot of peace of mind.
“While he was here, David also helped put together a formal backup strategy,” Vandagriff adds. “And he showed us how to really use the tool—setting policies, alerts, and so forth. Our backup infrastructure is more robust because of that visit.”
Deploying machines efficiently
TDXNet has used Symantec Ghost Solution Suite to deploy images on desktops and laptops for several years, but with no standardization in hardware, much of the work still had to be done manually. After standardization, however, the TDXNet team upgraded to the latest version of Ghost and began creating standard images for each subsidiary.
“We can have a new laptop with the TDX Microsoft Vista image provisioned in about 20 minutes,” Vandagriff reports. “We also plan to be early adopters of Windows 7 and will be relying on Ghost to make that transition happen smoothly.”
Mark L.S. Mullins is a managing editor of The Confident SMB and CIO Digest and senior manager of Symantec’s Global Reference Program team.