Hughes-Fortinet Partnership Brings Zero-Touch Simplicity to Distributed Retail Organizations

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Hughes Network Systems is a leading managed network service provider for highly distributed enterprises that need to operate and deliver uniform performance across large numbers of branch locations. They have been a long-time Fortinet partner, delivering innovative managed network solutions that leverage Fortinet platforms by combining Fortinet’s security capabilities with Hughes’ broadband transport, routing, and WAN optimization technologies.

We recently sat down with Jeff Bradbury, Senior Director of Marketing at Hughes, to talk about the latest Fortinet offering adopted by Hughes – the FortiGate 30E appliance – and what customer needs it addresses.

Jeff, first up a bit about Hughes’ business environment and what kinds of customer you serve.

Hughes’ Enterprise division provides fully-managed network services to highly distributed organizations that typically have some kind of retail operation, ranging from the biggest brand-name retailers and restaurant chains to hotels, convenience stores, retail petroleum outlets, and banks. These are businesses typically with hundreds and even thousands of branch locations.

There are two common threads that run through all of our customers. The first is the need to have a secure and always available network to support their business operations. The second is they have a fairly complex network of locations that benefits from having an MSP manage it and all of their associated suppliers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This last point is crucial, as some of our customers have dozens of bandwidth suppliers and hundreds of different bandwidth tiers of service depending on their geographic spread, creating a byzantine web of suppliers and contracts that have to be managed in a way that delivers stable and consistent network performance both at a per site level as well as across the whole organization.

What are the top IT challenges or concerns these customers face that drove Hughes to adopt the FortiGate 30E appliance?

The most critical issue is complexity. Beyond the complexity of dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual network sites and their suppliers, as I already mentioned, these businesses also have to manage a myriad of applications, and are deploying new ones every day to remain competitive.

Their network needs have evolved far beyond secure point-of-sale and back-office applications. They need to support guest WiFi and rich media applications to enhance the customer experience. Customers are asking for new capabilities like mobile payments and buy-it-online/pick-it-up-locally. Stores are becoming smarter by adopting new technologies like iBeacons, NFC, touchscreens, digital kiosks, and the Internet of Things. They need to support more VoIP and video. And they are moving toward more cloud-centric applications. Their network traffic patterns are growing, changing, and moving farther outside their control.

The other major issue is affordability. Retail locations need an affordable connectivity and security solution they can easily deploy themselves, either as part of a fully managed network service or by using locally provided broadband. To contain costs, especially for those smaller footprint locations, they need a straightforward cost-effective solution that also delivers robust and worry-free security. The 30E is the right solution for many customers where a single, tightly integrated platform works best.

How does the FortiGate 30E address those needs?

The 30E can be delivered two ways.  It can be part of a holistic managed service, combining broadband connectivity, security, installation, provisioning, and on-site support. In this configuration it’s completely zero-touch and turnkey.

The second option is to have the 30E delivered as part of a ‘Bring your own broadband’ solution, where it is connected to a locally sourced broadband connection.  You still get the zero-touch configuration and the industry leading security, but in a package that allows you to install it yourself.

Whichever option you choose, the 30E delivers a lot more than just network security and PCI compliance. In addition to the zero-touch configuration, the 30E also comes with 24-hour replacement service and an integrated 4G/LTE backup link, providing customers with a simple and automated alternative path to keep their businesses up and running should their primary circuit experience problems.  And as part of the Hughes managed service, we allow customers to pool their 4G data plan across multiple sites, and even across 4G carriers, allowing for further cost savings and convenience.

Lastly, from a security perspective, the 30E delivers world-class threat management. As part of the Fortinet Security Fabric, the FortiGate 30E can receive real-time threat intelligence updates to stay ever vigilant against attacks. This service is integrated into the Hughes enhanced security offering, allowing us to manage all of a customer’s devices so that they can focus on running their business.

Are you seeing a shift in IT or cybersecurity buying criteria from your customers?

Yes, we are. As I alluded to earlier, broadband is overlaying or replacing MPLS transport at remote branch sites because retailers can save significantly on network costs without sacrificing performance. This has led to more customers adopting SD-WAN or hybrid WAN architectures, which require security enforcement to be executed at the network edge.

As a result of these new architectures, we are also seeing greater use of direct Internet access from the branch as customers optimize their networks for access to cloud applications. It’s challenging to provide efficient cloud access and security to many distributed organizations because their traditional network architectures require all traffic to be passed back through the data center before gaining access to the Internet.

Security-wise, retail organizations are going beyond the mandated PCI compliance, and are taking active measures to counter growing security threats. Everyone is fearful of falling victim to the next headline-making cyberattack. At the same time, the ubiquity of mobile computing is forcing them to support more apps and capabilities for their customers and employees at the branches, which makes them vulnerable to another layer of exploits. These are the challenges where our customers are focusing most of their time and investments. 

In a market where continued technology innovation is a business imperative, how does working with Fortinet give you a leg up to deliver what your customers want?

It enables us to offer customers a best-of-breed solution derived from two market leaders. And part of that leadership is a tradition of innovating in our respective areas, allowing us to work together in order to bring new technologies to market in a timely and ongoing fashion. Our expertise is in delivering managed VPNs, which requires extra-strong security. Fortinet gives us a security platform on which we can build our secret sauce – broadband, network optimization, and 24/7 network expertise delivered as fully managed solution. I credit Fortinet with having the foresight to build platforms on which partners can add value, and recognizing that in this field, two heads are very often better than one.