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Keeping Up With Change

Change often is necessary. But, unmonitored, it can wreak havoc on systems and processes. For Irving, Calif.-based Western United Insurance Co. ($150 million in premium income), a subsidiary of the California State Automobile Association, the unexpected consequences of a network upgrade created an expensive problem.

After updating its network in early 2004 to Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Windows 2003, Western United, a paperless company specializing in auto insurance, began suffering from problems with its Microsoft Exchange mail server, recalls Jarrad Winter, network security manager for the carrier. Within a 90-day period, the mail server went down three times for a total of more than six days. "It was costing the company $500,000 a day," he relates.

After extensive examination, Winter realized the problem was not with Exchange; rather, the cause was a change to the infrastructure of Active Directory, a component of the Windows platform that manages the identities and relationships that make up network environments. The changes in Active Directory integrated Exchange, which previously operated as a stand-alone application, into the network environment, Winter explains. As a result, any misconfiguration in Active Directory can crash the mail server.

Seeking a way to track network changes, Winter conducted a Google search and began evaluating solutions. After testing several vendors' products, Winter selected the NetPro Management Suite from Phoenix-based NetPro in the second quarter of 2004. On the same day that he signed the purchase order, Winter received a Web link through which he downloaded the software (he later received a copy on CD). He installed the software on a dedicated Compaq DL360 server from HP (Palo Alto, Calif.). "It was the easiest install (of enterprise-level) software I've ever done," he says, adding that it took him less than a day to complete.

The NetPro Management Suite features six modules, including a ChangeAuditor module, which identifies who makes a change; Directory Analyzer and DNSAnalyser, which notify network administrators of problems in real time; and a security module that alerts Winter of network breaches. He notes that the software is pretty self-explanatory and he required less than five minutes of training.

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