Austereo radio gets VPN relief

A failing virtual private network (VPN) system based on underdeveloped technology did not shake the belief of a national radio network in the benefits of the technology.

After coping with a VPN system for some years that was unreliable to be point that employees were "paranoid" about using it and which had "dominated" the IT team's time, national FM network Austereo, switched vendors but remained true to the concept.

Des DeCean, group general manager, engineering and IT for Austereo said: "Our previous VPN system had become a big issue as we only have a small IT team supporting a large business."

The Austereo network owns 14 radio stations around Australia with the 10 in major cities and a research centre in Adelaide connected through the VPN. This equates to about 5000 calls a day through the system, as well as data services.

"We were consistently monitoring it and tweaking it, it became a preoccupation to keep it alive and also held us back from doing other projects."

The system had become renowned throughout the company for delivering poor voice quality and for calls dropping out. Employees were bypassing the network altogether thereby increasing phone costs as all calls out of the stations operate as "hop off" calls; the call travels through the VPN system and enters the public telephone network at the node closest to the destination.

DeCean said since moving to Panaseer's EasyStreet Facilities Management (FM) service, the IT personnel have been "freed up incredibility" and the team has been able to focus on many projects, such as an upgrade to the corporate LAN environment, development of an e-commerce Web site and converting systems to digital.

"We are currently looking at a SAP financial and business solution implementation which will replace a number of smaller accounting systems with one large central database, as well as evaluating an enterprise-wide CRM project which is planned for next year."

"We are now also able to deliver e-mail across the group, run an advertising booking system and database, and distribute nationwide audio broadcasts."

As for the staff of Austereo, "the system has moved from something that everyone talked about to something people don't even think about anymore."

DeCean said the new system had been in place for about 15 months and during that time there had been months of zero faults and only one hardware failure.

Following the problems with their previous VPN system, supplied by a high-profile US company, that had sent a team over to Australia to look at why the system was not performing and were surprised at how far the company was "pushing" it and gave up; the company took a cautious approach to the implementation of this new system.

The solution was piloted in Adelaide and Melbourne for two months in late 1999 with the understanding that if the error rate was above a level, the company-wide implementation would not proceed.

The network was switched over in the other locations over a weekend and DeCean said once the system was set up and lined up, it was stable from day one.

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