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MainGate Cuts Costs, Speeds Service Delivery, and Secures Websites with Help from F5

MainGate, an event, retail, and merchandising company, builds and maintains more than 30 e-commerce websites for professional sports teams and associations, nonprofits, and other businesses. In 2011, MainGate moved these websites from a third-party managed service provider to its own private cloud.

MainGate chose F5 BIG-IP Application Delivery Controllers to manage site traffic and to provide firewall capabilities. As a cornerstone of its data center, F5 devices help MainGate boost performance, ensure high availability, improve security, and realize a 61 percent cost reduction compared to similar managed service and public cloud offerings.

Business Challenges

Indianapolis-based MainGate is a multifaceted merchandising and marketing company that provides turnkey solutions from concept to fulfillment for numerous business partners. The company conducts business through various merchandise distribution channels, including event, retail, wholesale, and e-commerce.  MainGate’s rapidly growing e-commerce  business segment builds, manages, and promotes more than 30 websites for its  partners, which include professional and  collegiate football and basketball teams,  motorsports, golf, bowling, and other sports associations, as well as numerous nonprofits and other businesses.

MainGate previously outsourced the hosting of its e-commerce infrastructure to a third-party managed service provider. However, it was a challenge for MainGate to update existing websites or create new ones quickly. In addition, it had limited visibility and control of security and other backend administration, and hosting costs were high.

MainGate was also concerned about keeping its websites available and secure. Although normal, day-to-day traffic is relatively stable and predictable, an e-commerce website may experience huge spikes in traffic volume when, for example, a team or athlete wins a major championship or a popular player is drafted or traded to another team. “During such peaks, if customers experience poor website performance, they’re likely to turn to a competitor—and there is a lot of revenue at stake,” says Lawrence Miller, Director of IT and E-Commerce at MainGate.

MainGate also has to ensure compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards and needed more visibility into its security environment.  Gaining access to security logs that validate data integrity was a challenge. “We needed more control to ensure that our websites are secure and available.”

“With the BIG-IP system as a cornerstone of our environment, we’ll save a significant amount of money … compared to using other managed service offerings—with better results.” Lawrence Miller, Director of IT and E-Commerce, MainGate

Solution

In 2011, MainGate decided to move the hosting of its e-commerce websites to an on-premises data center. The company created a virtualized data center environment, and as a crucial piece of its new infrastructure, MainGate evaluated Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs)   from Riverbed and Brocade.

FishNet Security, a provider of information security solutions and a consulting partner to MainGate, also suggested the company consider ADCs from F5. “In addition to delivering superior traffic management, the F5 devices could also act as an application delivery firewall,” says Brad Smith, Account Executive at FishNet.

The F5 BIG-IP system is an ICSA Labs– certified firewall and is therefore capable of protecting MainGate’s applications and web services at the network level. “We discovered that the F5 solution, even though the initial hardware costs were higher, ultimately cost us less because the competitors’ capacity licensing fees were steep,” explains Miller.  “Also, with F5 we didn’t have to invest in an additional firewall, so we could reallocate our firewall budget for other purposes.”

MainGate implemented two BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) 3600 devices to manage traffic to more than 30 websites. Using the F5 iRules scripting language, administrators can control application traffic and configure the BIG-IP LTM devices to automatically recognize each website request and direct it to the appropriate server. In its firewall capacity, BIG-IP LTM handles all HTTP and HTTPS connections and ensures PCI compliance.

MainGate also plans to implement BIG-IP WebAccelerator, which is designed to overcome performance issues of web browsers, web application platforms, and WAN latency. WebAccelerator improves page download times through sophisticated caching, compression, and image optimization as well as by offloading resource-intensive SSL processing from web servers.

“With F5, we’ve laid the foundation for building our own private cloud, with ample room for growth.” Lawrence Miller, Director of IT and E-Commerce, MainGate

Benefits

Using BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager, MainGate built a powerful private cloud infrastructure that provides high availability and strong security for its customers’ e-commerce websites, even during the biggest traffic spikes. With the BIG-IP solution, MainGate can deploy and   update websites faster, deliver a better user experience, and dynamically scale to support sudden and extreme traffic spikes.

Cuts costs, speeds time-to-market

MainGate compared the costs of building and maintaining its own private cloud infrastructure to moving to a hybrid cloud or upgrading its third-party hosting environment to gain flexibility, speed, and availability. “With the BIG-IP system as a cornerstone of our environment, we’ll save a significant amount of money over the next five years compared to using other managed service offerings—with better results,” says Miller. Furthermore, MainGate can support up to a tenfold increase in total e-commerce revenue and websites on its current F5 devices. “With F5, we’ve laid the foundation for building our own private cloud, with ample room for growth.”

MainGate has also improved time-to-market for supporting new customers. In the past, it could take several weeks to get servers and storage provisioned. During this time, MainGate’s e-commerce team could only do limited website development and testing.

“With F5, creating a new website is simple,” says Charles Randle, Network Manager at MainGate. “We adjust settings in our virtualized environment, add the new website to the load balancing pool, create a security certificate, and turn it over to our e-commerce team. What used to take days or weeks now takes only a few minutes.”

Boosts confidence in security environment

The BIG-IP system, an ICSA Labs–certified firewall, provides MainGate with network- layer protection for its e-commerce websites—from the same platform that delivers intelligent traffic management.  “The BIG-IP system provides a robust, no-frills firewall with solid performance,” says Miller. “We’ve gained a significant level of confidence in our security environment— and control. Simply put, our level of confidence is higher.”

Improves user experience

MainGate reports a “night and day” difference in page load times and attributes this to the web optimization capabilities of the BIG-IP LTM devices. “If these e-commerce websites are slow, customers will go elsewhere,” says Miller. “With F5 in place, we can ensure top performance for our websites, and minimize our risk of losing customers to the competition.”