Holiday Autos by: Kaizo

Company: VistormCustomer: Holiday AutosSubmitted by: KaizoInternational companies wishing to extend their businesses into the global market must ensure that their enterprise networks are capable of supporting e-commerce. Holiday Autos understood that an investment in the latest Virtual Private Network technology could allow them to benefit from the cost savings and flexibility of the Internet whilst protecting sensitive business information and has turned to Vistorm to ensure that its new VPN delivers on its promise to provide real competitive advantage.Holiday Autos is the world’s largest leisure car rental broker, selecting the best car rental companies to work with around the world, negotiating the lowest possible rates and then passing the savings on to its customers in the form of lower prices. It offers its comprehensive service at over 4,000 locations, with sales from 40 countries around the world.

It has developed strong links with travel agents, from whom it derives the lion’s share of its business and has been voted the world’s leading leisure car rental company for two years in a row.

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The desire to ‘Go Global’

Established 13 years ago by Clive Jacobs, the current Chairman & CEO, Holiday Autos has been an international company for several years. As the travel market has expanded and matured however, the organisation has increasingly recognised that running largely autonomous operating companies in each country in order to suit the local market has certain disadvantages. Disparate business procedures and IT systems have made it hard to present a single, strong face to the world travel market and places a huge demand on internal resources to maintain the systems.Luke Phillips, technical services manager at Holiday Autos corporate offices in the UK, explained: “The travel business is highly competitive and in order to win and retain customers we must provide the best possible levels of service.

For an international company, this means that we must provide the same service experience in every country. Achieving this goal is very difficult when there is no single accounting, reservation and management information system to provide consistency of approach and ‘big picture’ analysis of the organisation. Our decision to globalise the business in every sense of the word is therefore an extremely logical one but it has required the complete re-design and reconstruction of the IT environment that supports it.”At the end of 1999, Holiday Autos decided that it would need to invest inbest of breed business applications that would streamline its operations and to build a new global reservation system. It set the exacting deadline of end-2000 for these applications to be in place but realised that it would need to invest in new network infrastructure before they could be rolled out if it was to achieve its goal of globalisation. The new network infrastructure had two critical requirements: high bandwidth and the ability to deliver applications over that bandwidth, worldwide.

A virtual solution

The solution was quickly confirmed as a virtual private network (VPN) in the first respect, enabling Holiday Autos to provide high bandwidth cheaply across the globe using Internet links that provide flexible many to many connections, rather than costly traditional point to point to many connections. Building a VPN would also reduce the time required to set up new offices. A thin client/server approach to computing would solve the second requirement, using Citrix MetaFrame running over the VPN to allow applications to run over the Internet. By going thin, the applications would use less bandwidth and therefore run more cost effectively. Holiday Autos would also have greater control from the UK centre, which would reduce support costs and the total cost of ownership of the global network.

Pressure to build the new infrastructure increased with the requirement for the new accountancy system to be implemented in France in March 2000. Holiday Autos immediately reviewed Internet connectivity solutions provided by BT, UUNET, AT&T and another with the aim of having one worldwide supplier. Whilst UUNET could provide the bandwidth component of the equation, they could not deliver the VPN element and recommended Vistorm as a suitable candidate because of its role as one of only two resellers in the UK of market leading FireWall-1 and enterprise wide VPN-1 technology from Check Point Software Technologies. Holiday Autos reviewed Vistorm/UUNET, against competition from BT/Concert, AT&T/Cisco and another partnership.

Its selection criteria centred on the ‘value for money’ offered by each solution.Phillips explained: “Holiday Autos is committed to investing in the right solutions for the business, regardless of whether they are the cheapest or most expensive options. Value for money in this respect included the provision of an end to end service, the VPN itself, project management of the installation, global support for the VPN 24 x 7, and the view that a strong and long lasting relationship could be built with the supplier.”We decided to partner with Vistorm/UUNET because they were able to address these requirements but also because they offered us the chance to tie delivery of bandwidth and the VPN with the implementation of our preferred thin client/server strategy in a ‘one stop shop’. We did not have the skills internally at Holiday Autos to build the VPN in such a short time frame and would have found it very difficult to introduce server-based computing without the assistance of a third party. Once built, we did not want to dedicate resource to the maintenance and growth of the new IT infrastructure in the long term and Vistorm’s managed internet security solution was the perfect answer,” said Phillips.

Testing the technology in a four country pilot

The Vistorm project team was assigned to Phase One of the project in January 1999, with France, Germany, USA and Sweden designated as pilot sites. Implementation of the VPN in each site was the first objective with the thin client/server strategy following later.Sweden was the first country to be targeted because it had the highest level of IT support, an existing network and some web servers. In two days, ESOFT Global had supplied, installed and tested the Nokia IP330 hardware that runs Check Point FireWall-1 and VPN-1 software and cut over to the system, which reports back to a Nokia IP440 at the UK head office. Implementation of the same systems then took place in France, again over a two day period, going live on time in the first week of March.

In Germany, VPN-1 was installed on a Sun SparcStation because the German office had already installed FireWall-1 on the Sun system. It will move to the Nokia platform when the global reservation system is available to ensure it becomes a full member of the global VPN, which will be managed by Check Point Provider-1 network management software. In the USA, investment had already been made in the Cisco PIX firewall so the decision was taken to integrate it with VPN-1 and the Provider-1 network.”The successful completion of Phase One of the VPN project has meant that we have been able to achieve our goal of implementing our accountancy package in France in a very short space of time. The German and USA offices are currently testing the accountancy system and Sweden will start testing shortly,” explained Phillips.

The next step is to extend the VPN to the remaining 8 offices to enable the rollout of the other business applications by quarter 1 2001, extending the number of VPN users from the current 20 to 500. New offices will join the VPN as they are established using the preferred FireWall-1/ VPN-1/ Nokia/UUNET infrastructure. Small offices with only a few users will be provided with a dial-up connection to the VPN using VPN-1 SecuRemote, which will allow users to access core business applications securely, with acceptable performance levels, in a short space of time.

Delivering applications over the Internet

“What this means in the long term is that we will be able to connect any employee to the Holiday Autos application suite anywhere in the world over the Internet,” said Phillips.Citrix MetaFrame plays a critical role in this operation by allowing Holiday Autos to run applications on a central server in the UK, with direct LAN connection to core databases. ‘Snap shots’ of each application are delivered to client PCs using low Internet bandwidth, which helps to maintain the cost efficiency of the network.

It also means that Holiday Autos only needs to maintain one highly skilled IT department at head office to maintain its application suite. PC support is all that is required at ground level which is much easier to find and more cost effective as a general rule.

Benefiting from a managed Internet security service

According to Phillips: “The ultimate benefit of partnering with Vistorm is that it allows us to achieve our strategic goal of ‘going global’ with maximum flexibility, cost effectiveness and with little drain on our own resources. By outsourcing the implementation and long-term management of the VPN to Vistorm we have ensured that we will not be distracted from our core business by physically maintaining the new network.”Vistorm have proved to be a highly flexible and understanding partner, responding to the cultural dynamics of our organisation without delay or fuss.

This was vital during the pilot when each country presented different technical and social problems and required 100 per cent willingness to change project plans at short notice. These qualities are sure to stand us in good stead during completion of the VPN.”We have complete confidence that Vistorm has the ability to deliver and manage our business critical VPN,” he concludes.