Quebec telco checks up on customers

Telecommunications provider QuebecTel is the first company in Canada to acquire Check Point’s newest version of the Provider 1 security console, which began shipping in mid-May after going into beta in April.

The incumbent local exchange carrier, which is in the process of being bought out by West Coast-based Telus, plans to use the $100,000 software system to manage the security policies for customers of four of its subsidiary companies: Zenon, QuebecTel AMI, Microcode-Zenon and RGB Technology – all of whom will be joined as one company this month.

Eric Bourbeau, vice-president, technologies and marketing, at Zenon, said QuebecTel plans to form a new company offering complete Internet and network solutions.

Zenon, RGB and, especially, QuebecTel AMI have provided some security solutions to customers over the past few years, said Bourbeau, but with unsophisticated tools developed in-house. “This is bringing us to the next level,” he said of Check Point’s software, which will be housed in bunkers in Montreal and QuebecTel’s headquarters in Rimouski, Que.

The Provider 1 security console is a management tool that allows service providers to edit, navigate and view the security policies of all of its customers via a Web-based graphical user interface. Spokespersons for the Israel-based Check Point said the software is scalable to handle thousands of customers.

Bourbeau said the idea of outsourced security management is especially appealing to small- and medium-sized companies.

“From our experience, it takes one of our security specialists between two to three days a week to keep up with the latest hacks, the latest trends, the latest viruses in the security world,” Bourbeau related. “It’s a lot of research and development just to keep up to date. Even the larger firms typically don’t have that kind of staff. They can’t dedicate people just to participate in chats to find out what’s happening (in the security world).”

Bourbeau cautioned that QuebecTel’s purchase of the Provider 1 console doesn’t let the company off the hook in developing new and better security solutions. In fact, the company chose Check Point’s software mostly because much of its installed customer base was already using Check Point firewalls. “It made sense to use Check Point’s management console to manage Check Point firewalls,” Bourbeau said.

Mike Lee, the marketing manager for Provider 1 at Check Point, admitted comments like Bourbeau’s are increasingly given by customers as reasons for their choice of Check Point solutions.

“I’d say that’s huge for us, across the board with every product we sell,” Lee said. “We took a huge market space in (firewalls) very early on.”

Lee said there are three major new features on board the 2000 version of Provider 1, including global policy security templates that service providers can create and apply to a large group of customers all at once. Before, service providers had to apply new security elements or rules to each and every customer individually.

A new administration manager also allows service providers to “re-outsource” the job of assigning security authorities back to the customers, many of whom are more equipped to handle the implementation of new employees, Lee said. He added each Sun server that Provider 1 runs on can handle 200 customers, double the amount previously.

Telecommunications analyst Jordan Worth, of IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said QuebecTel’s purchase of Provider 1 could be a boon to Check Point if Telus’ buy-out of QuebecTel is approved by the CRTC.

“If this application works well…then boom, you’ve got the potential to sell hundreds, if not thousands of software (packages) back up to the parent company,” Worth explained.

Bourbeau is hoping customers impressed with outsourcing security will help ease Quebec businesses into e-commerce.

“Eighty-four per cent of Quebec companies are hesitating or aren’t ready to get out there with an e-commerce solution because they’re worried about security,” he said, citing a study published in March, 1999 in Commerce electronique. “And that is what we’re out there trying to change.”