How Cybera became a star

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 1:00am

At a time when identity theft is growing rapidly, online security is becoming an ever-bigger concern for businesses. To protect themselves and their customers, companies are looking for innovative online networks to provide security and efficiency without threatening the bottom line.

Stepping up to fill these needs, Nashville-based Cybera has experienced 75 percent annual growth since its inception in 2001.

That astounding growth recently prompted Entrepreneur magazine to rank Cybera No. 73 on its list of the 100 fastest growing new businesses in the United States. The main statistic earning that distinction according to Entrepreneur: $6.5 million in sales for 2004.

"To be a Nashville company and get ranked on a national basis - it's a real honor," said Cliff Duffey, Cybera's chief executive officer.

Duffey founded Cybera in 2001 just after the burst of the tech bubble and when faith in telecom companies wasn't at its highest. The company creates private data networks that enable multi-location businesses such as Mapco Express convenience stores and Applebee's restaurants to communicate among themselves in a secure environment.

Of course, Cybera is not the first or only company to provide this service. How, then, did it orchestrate such rapid growth in little more than three years when other telecom companies were floundering?

Duffey said that Cybera's biggest advantage is that its networks provide the utmost security for clients because they never touch the public Internet.

"Almost all of our competitors first try to get you connected to the public Internet and then try to add security features on top of that to keep the bad stuff out," Duffey said. "You're a lot safer from the hackers if they can't see you."

Cybera protects its customers from hackers and identity thieves through what it calls its Smartnetwork, which connects network users at all locations through one virtual router separate from the Internet, and also directs them all through the same virtual firewall before they access the public Internet.

Other online architectures, such as the virtual private network, have to maintain many firewalls while Cybera maintains just one, Duffey said. That helps Cybera keep its costs low and security high.

"It's a lot easier to keep the bad stuff out if you're letting the big [internal] network go out through [only] one point," Duffey said. "[With virtual private networks], you have 1,000 firewalls you have to keep up to date and you have to configure. That's tough to manage."

Duffey said Cybera's network is much like a frame relay system, which many hospitals use and which also never touches the public Internet. The difference, however, is that Cybera can use any type or carrier of broadband access, such as SBC or Verizon.

"The nice thing is we can work with almost any carrier," Duffey said. "We can go and deliver a nationwide network to a customer and find them the lowest-cost provider for each connection."

That ability, Duffey said, saves his clients about $200 a month compared to frame relay users.

"It's the security system of a frame network but at a virtual private network price point," added Amanda Cecconi, Cybera's vice president of marketing.

Cybera's customers get one bill instead of one from every broadband carrier they have, which makes Cybera an even more unique company, said Greg Buzek, president of Franklin-based IHL Consulting, a tech analyst firm.

Two of Cybera's biggest local clients are Central Parking Corporation and Dollar General, and its product has been popular with restaurants such as Wendy's and retail stores. Duffey said these companies are tired of slow dial-up speeds and are switching to broadband.

The benefits are there, according to Cybera client MAPCO Express.

"We have noticeably faster credit-card processing, better inventory control, and real-time business intelligence about our customers' preferences and store security," said Scotty Creason, IT manager at MAPCO, in a case study.

With endorsements like that, it wouldn't be surprising to see Cybera even higher on the list of fastest growing new businesses next year.

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