The Challenge: Agility, Security Simplicity
Global retail organizations with multiple locations and cloud applications increasingly seek a more agile, cost effective network solution than MPLS, which is not well suited to the cloud and can get cost prohibitive really fast. Many are also looking to slash the cost and complexity of securing all their connections. Such was the case with Sixt, a global car rental company with locations in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Sixt USA is the fourth largest car rental company serving the U.S., with 1,000 employees, 80 offices, and more than 3,000 connected devices. The company relies on a combination of in-house and cloud applications such as Office 365 and generates a lot of voice and video traffic. Originally, Sixt routed traffic from U.S. locations through its Germany-based datacenter via a mix of MPLS and Internet based VPNs. Imagine the latency. “All traffic was passing through Europe from our U.S. branches, so our Internet and cloud applications were very slow and connection drops were common,” says Chris Chowquan, head of information technology teams for Sixt North America.
Securing all those connections was also unnecessarily complex. “Different point solutions were used for access and security and each solution was handled by a different team,” says Chowquan. “It was costing us a lot, and the reliability just wasn’t there.”
All that aging hardware and solution complexity made troubleshooting network issues and downtime a challenge. “Our rental-car software and POS transactions require connectivity, so it impacts the services that we provide to our customers directly,” says Chowquan. “If we could handle things using a single pane of glass from a single vendor, that would be ideal.”
Sixt was also looking for a network solution that would be more agile in the face of digital transformation. “We needed something that would scale quickly, maintain our security posture no matter how many users and branches were added, and be able to optimize our global traffic network,” says Chowquan.
Sixt Seeks SD-WAN Alternative, Chooses Cato SASE
Much of the hardware was reaching the end of its life, so Sixt took the opportunity to look for alternative solutions. “We were already looking at migrating from MPLS to SD-WAN to reduce our circuit costs, so something that would integrate nicely with that migration would be preferred,” says Chowquan.
First the company considered colocation facilities for its WAN links, which seemed like an easy, effective transition. “Update our current setup and simply add redundancy and speed,” says Chowquan. It found a colocation provider with global colocation centers and route optimization.
Chowquan had heard about Cato and found the low price and reputation for support appealing. It seemed that Cato SASE might provide more network flexibility and agility than the colocation solution. “Sixt is such a dynamic company,” says Chowquan. “The business requirements push you to be fluid and adopt measures that support fast growth and change.” Chowquan had some concerns about the maturity of SASE technology. “You want to be cutting edge, but it was a risk.” Nevertheless, he decided to give Cato a try.
Cato connects all global enterprise network resources — including branch locations, mobile users, and physical and cloud datacenters — into a single secure, global, cloud-native network service. With all WAN and Internet traffic consolidated in the cloud, Cato applies a suite of robust security services to protect all traffic, including anti-malware, next generation firewall, and IPS.
Connecting a location to Cato is just a matter of installing a simple preconfigured Cato Socket appliance, which links automatically to the nearest of Cato’s more than 60 globally dispersed points of presence (PoPs). At the local PoP, Cato provides an onramp to its global backbone and security services. The backbone is not only privately managed for zero packet loss and 5 9’s uptime, it also has built in WAN optimization to dramatically improve throughput. Cato monitors network traffic and selects the optimum path for each packet across the Cato backbone. Mobile users run across the same backbone, benefiting from the same optimization features and improving remote access performance.
Chowquan tested Cato and the colocation solution side-by-side, together with Sixt’s current infrastructure, comparing results and feedback from the company’s users and staff. Aside from performance, Chowquan also compared ease of use and reliability. Cato bested the competing solutions all around, with superior results on all the metrics, not to mention a 15 percent latency improvement over Atlantic Ocean connections. It was also clear that Cato would give the company the agility it was looking for as it opened new locations.
Support was the next thing to consider. “We looked at support and how robust it was,” says Chowquan. “What kind of response could be expected when things go wrong?” Cato’s responses were immediate.
Fast Deployment, Surprising Business Benefits
In the end, Sixt globally, not just in the US, moved onto Cato. More than 1,000 locations were connected and secured by Cato Cloud. Overall, implementation was smooth, taking about six months. “Pointing our routers to the Cato points of presence (PoPs) and securing the connection took about 15 minutes per branch,” says Chowquan. “Cato also allowed us the opportunity to configure our equipment to use two PoPs per branch for redundancy.”
“Pointing our routers to the Cato points of presence and securing the connection took about 15 minutes per branch. Cato also allowed us the opportunity to configure our equipment to use two PoPs per branch for redundancy”
The result: All that legacy networking gear was no longer necessary. “We were able to repurpose our routers, switches, and VPN concentrators.
As for business benefits, Sixt was able to reduce the cost of network maintenance, security, and capacity planning by 15 to 20 percent and slash branch downtime from 10 hours per month to less than an hour.
“I believe this [reduced staff turnover] can be attributed to improved engagement between teams, allowing people to contribute and get rewarded in different areas”
The striking business benefit Chowquan never anticipated, however, was reducing staff turnover by 25 percent, which he attributes to the Cato transition. “I believe this can be attributed to improved engagement between teams, allowing people to contribute and get rewarded in different areas,” says Chowquan.
When Covid-19 reared its ugly head and work-from-home became the rule, rather than the exception, Sixt found Cato a godsend. Thanks to travel warnings, border closures, and quarantine orders, demand for rental cars collapsed and revenues plummeted nearly 40 percent in the first nine months of 2020. The company was forced to cut costs dramatically but also took the opportunity to expand strategically, taking over 10 sites at hub airports in the U.S. from competitors.
“With our network edge now located in the cloud, our users were able to transition to working remotely by tapping into the Cato backbone seamlessly via Cato SDP”
Cato SASE was instrumental in helping Sixt cope with all the changes. “SASE really shined here, especially when asked to do more with less,” says Chowquan. “With our network edge now located in the cloud, our users were able to transition to working remotely by tapping into the Cato backbone seamlessly via Cato SDP.” Many staff worked at home via their home Internet connections or LTE hotspots. “Connections were stable, and we were able to maintain security and monitor connections using a single platform.”
Overall, Chowquan is very pleased with the transition to Cato SASE and recommends it to other organizations. “It’s something I think CIOs should put on their radar,” says Chowquan. “It performs well now and is only going to get better from here.”