While many chains struggle to keep a lid on ever-climbing networking costs, Romano’s Macaroni Grill has embarked on an even bigger challenge: It is refreshing its IT infrastructure, including a centralized telecommunications network that will support an enterprise-wide point-of-sale system and protect the company’s mission-critical data. By adding an Internet navigation and security service, the chain can securely transmit network data to the proper channels in a cost-effective manner.
When Dallas-based Brinker International sold the Romano’s Macaroni Grill chain to Mac Acquisition LLC, an affiliate of San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital, in 2008, the casual dining chain was no longer entitled to the technology and services supplied by its previous parent company—a blow to the distributed company comprised of 185 restaurants, a corporate office and a data center in Orlando, Fla.
“All hardware and software was shared between Brinker’s various brands, so once the chain was sold, we were tasked with building our own IT infrastructure from the ground up, including our telecommunications network, hardware and software for POS and kitchen display routing systems, as well as our backend software for human resources, financials, reporting and data warehouses,” explained Drew Stafford, VP IT, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Dallas.
The chain began creating a new IT environment last year, and it continues to establish and test its enterprise-wide infrastructure that operates parallel to the systems it will be losing. While creating its new network, comprised of a virtual private network and new firewalls, Stafford decided to up the ante on network security.
Besides supporting approximately 1,000 new POS units across all restaurant locations, the safeguard had to protect Romano’s from malware and liabilities caused by associates accessing inappropriate Web sites. Stafford also wanted a new option when it came to content filters, or programs that screen availability to non-work-related Web pages or e-mails.
“We wanted to redirect this traffic, but with a distributed network you need numerous filters,” he said. “It is costly to pay these appliances’ annual subscription fees, and the cost increases when you multiply this by our many retail locations, the cost of deployment and ongoing maintenance.”
Eager to approach content filtering from a different perspective, the chain looked for a centralized, automated solution that could block objectionable sites and still provide security for mission-critical traffic. Romano’s found its answer from OpenDNS, a San Francisco-based provider of network security solutions.
As users type a URL into their address bar, OpenDNS analyzes whether the Web site is one that Romano’s has chosen to block or allow based on its IT policy. Since OpenDNS is a cloud-based service, this process occurs at the vendor’s global data center, freeing Romano’s from installing software onto individual machines or deploying and maintaining costly appliances on site. Authorized sites are pushed to users through Romano’s VPN, which resides in the chain’s data center.
The solution went live in one of Romano’s locations at the end of September. It is currently routing both internal and external e-mails, intranet usage, data transmissions and data backup for POS and workstations. The solution also secures traffic flowing over VPN links to the corporate office, keeps sensitive and customer data secure and PCI-compliant, and keeps employees on task.
Romano’s is currently rolling out its new IT infrastructure; however, the initial focus is outfitting the chain with a new POS and network configuration. Stafford said he expects the chain to be running all of its own IT infrastructure by the end of March.