Turning the Page on Network Performance

It’s no news bulletin that newspapers are struggling to adapt to the digital age. Over the last decade, circulations have dropped and revenues have declined as subscribers have changed their habits and behavior.

One company bucking the trend is Halifax Media Group, a collection of 33 newspapers and affiliated Websites that provide local news to local markets in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. The three-year-old firm has experienced strong revenue growth as it has continued to acquire papers and bring them into the fold.

“We focus on strong community outreach,” says network administrator Chris Tillett. “We avoid the larger markets and work to build ties to smaller and midsize markets.”

But connecting the business strategy and IT strategy has proved challenging, he notes. For one thing, many of the newspapers Halifax has acquired have old, dated IT systems in place, and some haven’t yet turned to virtualization and other tools.

For another, properties rely on different types and speeds of Internet connections and some lack adequate security, including VPNs. Yet, Halifax must get systems up and running quickly as newly acquired papers come online. “We require a strong, durable network,” Tillett says.

As a result, Halifax turned to Cisco Systems to develop a way to deploy a consistent IT framework, yet provide local newspapers with the flexibility they require. The result? The two companies developed a solution called Halifax in a Box. It automates the setup process and reduces the time and resources required to build a viable IT infrastructure across the organization.

“We realized that without a consistent infrastructure it was nearly impossible to grow the business and manage IT,” Tillett says.

Halifax in a Box consists of an integrated services router from Cisco, along with a firewall and VPN. The company is also rolling out ID signatures so that it can examine security threats at the property level. This aids in PCI compliance, Tillett says, explaining that “By using a single platform, we can ensure that there’s a consistent configuration and a consistent method of operation.”

The system also allows Halifax to program routers for BYOD policies and other concerns, and it provides the flexibility to move physical servers and other equipment using VM portability. The firm relies on VMware ESX to manage virtualization.

The initiative has delivered impressive results. Among other things, the company has reduced the time required to oversee and manage the network by about 25 percent. Virtualization has also cut costs and improved network efficiency, Tillett says. Finally, Halifax Media Group has managed to trim approximately $500,000 a year by dispensing with a previously required MPLS connection. At the same time, it has introduced enhanced wireless connectivity through a cloud-managed Meraki Wireless switch and access points that provide high-density coverage at locations.

“We are able to use a modular approach to add IT capabilities as they’re needed,” Tillett concludes. “We can plug in new businesses, address their specific needs, and still maintain a level of standardization and consistency that’s required in today’s business environment.”