Critical Infrastructure Security, Network Security

Forward progress: How the Denver Broncos really play defense

While attention is focused on the hard-hitting Denver Broncos on the field at Mile High Stadium, behind the scenes and away from the spotlights, a complementary crew of coaches, cheerleaders, marketers and other staff – totaling 300 people – use the team's private and virtual private networks (VPN) to share classified data, including videos, playbooks and scouting information. Additionally, on days when the team plays at home, the IT team supports up to 4,000 people requiring Wi-Fi. 

An appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII last February certainly has brought more acclaim to the team. Though it came away with a loss that day at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., as the men sauntered off the field and into the passageways leading to the locker rooms, all the elements supporting their efforts were in full force – and that includes the technicians running the media feeds, coaching and administrative staff communicating from the sidelines and luxury boxes, the fans tweeting out their impressions and any number of digital broadcasting options connecting those present with others elsewhere on the planet. 

Leading up to this away appearance at the NFL's peak moment, a good deal of effort back at home had already gone into recognizing that not only were bandwidth demands continuing to grow, but that security threats were becoming increasingly sophisticated. The six-person Broncos IT team realized that it needed not only greater bandwidth but a more secure network.

Most obviously, the IT team found itself spending too much time managing firewalls. Additionally, users – both in the stands and behind the scenes – were becoming frustrated with the network's spotty performance. The IT team came to a decision: It needed a simpler way to enable secure and reliable remote access – with real-time visibility into traffic loads and improved network bandwidth management and scalability. 

In an effort to solve this bandwidth challenge and gain greater security and control over the Broncos network as a whole, the team sought out a reliable and manageable solution. The goal? Creating a more secure network, improving staff efficiency and offering faster Wi-Fi access for fans, employees and vendors. 

Besides the Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, the Broncos organization operates a 13.5-acre complex at Dove Valley Business Park in nearby Englewood, consisting of executive offices and a training facility, a headquarters in the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre in Dove Valley, and a stadium and ticketing office in Denver.

As with any team, everyone does their part to help the Broncos be successful, including IT, says Chris Newman, IT architect for the Denver Broncos. “Our goals are optimizing employee productivity, bulletproofing network security and giving fans a game-day experience that exceeds what they get at home, including reliable Wi-Fi access.” While the Broncos organization and IT team are small, they are highly visible and can't risk intrusions or security breaches, he adds. 

Tech partner

Long-time Dell partner SHI International, a $5 billion global provider of information technology products and services based in Somerset, N.J., helped Russ Trainor, the Broncos VP of technology, and his colleagues break down their specific requirements. The team's previous firewall solutions were difficult to understand and provided limited network visibility, says the Broncos's Newman. Not only was the team suffering from slow stadium connectivity, but the organization also struggled to manage external network use – both at the main office location and through the personal tablet use of coaches and players – leaving the network open for security risks and crashes. With these needs in mind, SHI recommended the Dell SonicWALL firewall as the optimal solution to the IT headaches the Broncos were experiencing. 

Recognizing the growing need to add more users, LANs, servers and security features, the Broncos IT team chose to deploy a Dell SonicWALL SuperMassive 9200 firewall because it has a solid engine “with horsepower to spare,” as well as 24 available ports to easily scale and manage network traffic for years to come, says Newman. “Ultimately, it was the level of flexibility – along with its extensive feature set including deep-packet inspection and bandwidth throttling – that made the solution attractive.” The organization also deployed a Dell SonicWALL NSA 4500 firewall at its Dove Valley location, which, Newman says, provides the right level of protection and performance for that site. 

With this setup, IT is able to go into the firewall tool and configure rules and policies. “They're able to solve a lot of problems more quickly for fans and staff,” says Kevin Prior (left), corporate account executive at SHI.  “They have a lot more visibility into their network.”

The Dell SonicWALL SuperMassive 9000 Series Next-Generation Firewall is designed to deliver deep security to the enterprise at multi-gigabit speeds. “Offering the ultimate in security with enterprise-class performance, the SuperMassive 9000 Series detects and blocks the most sophisticated threats before they can enter the network – with minimal latency for every connection on the network,” Prior says. Using a higher core density architecture in a one-rack unit appliance, the SuperMassive 9000 Series efficiently saves rack space and lowers power and cooling costs. Its multicore design can handle traffic spikes without impacting network performance, he adds.

Deployment of the solution was very smooth, in great part because the Broncos worked with SHI and Dell SonicWALL Professional Services to expedite and simplify the process, says Newman. “The team worked with Dell SonicWall engineers for training, which helped explain the product, the configuration tools and administration.” This helped the IT staff get comfortable with making changes themselves on the new platform, he says.

Immediate results

Installation and configuration took only two days. Additionally, it only took an engineer about one hour to create and configure the two new VPN portals for vendors and for employees, each customized with Broncos themes.

The Broncos are already seeing ROI from their deployment through increased control and faster performance, says Newman. “Using the Dell SonicWALL SRA 4600 with the Dell SonicWALL SuperMassive 9000 offloads VPN traffic from the main firewall to the SRA, significantly speeding VPN access,” he says. “Additionally, with the Dell SonicWALL Analyzer software, the team's IT personnel have the insight and control needed to optimize connections.” 

Goal to go 

The Broncos presented a list of requirements for its firewall needs, including: 

• Application intelligence
• WAN acceleration 
• Anti-malware/IPS 
• SSL VPN support for 150-200 users • Higher port counts and speeds 
• DMZ configurations 
• Reporting features 
• Supports higher speed internet pipes 

• DMZ configurations
• Wi-Fi security/configurations
• Reporting features 

The solution from Dell SonicWALL met these needs, says Chris Newman, IT architect for the Denver Broncos. 

The new solution, he adds, also helps ensure that users get fast response times by allowing IT to identify people and services that are taking up too much bandwidth at the expense of others and, when necessary, limit users' available bandwidth. “This allows players, coaches and other employees priority access for work-related file downloads, such as football videos and playbooks.”

Engineers, Newman says, also can work more efficiently since the process to set up network rules and policies is faster, using only one interface for both the Dell SonicWALL 9200 and 4500. “The interface is easier to use, and each screen loads much faster than their previous solutions, saving considerable time. It helps in all areas and allows the Denver Broncos IT team to have control of the network and who is accessing it.”

Game plan

The implementation touches the entire company along with fans who are attending games at the stadium.  

The Broncos plan to implement other features in the Dell SonicWALL firewalls – such as WAN acceleration and site caching – to further accelerate network and application response times. They also plan to work with Dell in the near future to add another SuperMassive 9200 for high availability. 

Further assisting a smooth operation, SHI and Dell SonicWALL support teams follow up to check how the solution is doing and to make sure the Broncos are happy with it, says Newman. 

“IT is able to go to the single pane of glass that can be pushed through their VPN that is compatible to any operating system,” adds SHI's Prior.

As for any future threats that might arise, Newman admits that security initiatives and priorities are always changing, particularly protecting and preventing intrusions. “But technologies like SonicWALL allow the team to stay nimble and proactively address these security threats. Having access, control, secure Wi-Fi for fans and intrusion prevention is critical for IT.” 

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