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July 1999

Customer Considerations When Choosing A VPN Solution


Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have truly arrived. The market for VPN products is expected to reach $275 million in 1999. While VPNs are arguably one of the most hyped networking technologies of the 1990s, the fundamental benefits are real. VPNs save users money on popular applications such as remote access (for telecommuters and road warriors) and site-to-site communications. A recent Forrester Research report estimates that companies can save up to 60% using Internet-based VPNs instead of private networks.

VPNs also simplify and expedite connectivity. The pervasiveness of the Internet is enabling organizations to connect employees, partners, and offices in a matter of days versus the months it takes to install private lines or a dedicated frame relay service. Companies eager to capitalize on these business benefits are racing to install VPNs, however, anyone considering a VPN faces some critical choices.

Implementing a VPN is serious business. Unfortunately, many organizations evaluating VPN solutions treat the decision as if they were looking to add a new feature to their network. This is a dangerous and potentially costly mistake. The VPN is the network, and without a solid understanding of your business and security needs, you could end up with an inadequate solution and a management nightmare.

In choosing a VPN solution, the ultimate goals are security and cost savings. Ideally, you want to choose the least expensive solution that meets your business and security needs. Begin by asking yourself what kind of information you need to make secure. Who will be accessing it and how? What are the financial risks of security leaks? Once you clarify your business requirements, you will have a good understanding of the types of products you require — i.e., software-only or hardware, clients and/or gateways, and VPN management.

Most customers explore issues such as cost, performance, and standards-compliance when they are shopping for VPNs. However, there are other important considerations that are often neglected when considering a VPN solution.

Standards such as Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) are providing a foundation to offer customers reliable security and interoperability with other vendor offerings. IPSec addresses important issues such as how products establish security sessions, what type of encryption algorithms are used, and how keys are handled. As with many standards, IPSec is evolving to meet the needs of users. In other words, IPSec is not enough. Businesses that have implemented VPNs know that issues like policy management, user authentication, and access control are vital elements of a deployable VPN solution. While IPSec will continue to evolve, customers and vendors must address these questions now:

  • What will the VPN require of administrators and end users? A successful VPN implementation is transparent to the end user, and does not compromise application performance or complicate your business operations.
  • Who will manage your VPN? What management requirements do you have? Is outsourcing an option?
  • How scalable is the solution? As your business grows and changes, will your VPN grow with you?

There are vendors and service providers of all shapes and sizes offering VPN technology, and your VPN vendor plays a critical role in making your network secure. When choosing a VPN vendor, you need to look at more than the product line. How much experience do they have? Will the company be in business in 18 months? Do they have customers who have implemented their technology? What kind of customer support do they offer? Will they be there when you need them?

The bottom line is customers need more than the latest, greatest VPN product. They need the VPN that is right for their business needs. And they need a viable, reliable vendor to support them in the VPN quest.

VPNs provide a real solution for organizations looking to leverage the Internet to facilitate secure communications with employees, partners, and customers. There are product vendors, service providers, and integrators who have the information customers need to design, implement, and manage a VPN. Take advantage of these VPN experts — ask for their help during the evaluation phase. Your network deserves it.

Phil Saunders is vice president of marketing for Information Resource Engineering, Inc. (IRE). IRE delivers cost-effective VPN solutions that enable organizations to use the Internet and other shared networks for private communications. IRE’s SafeNet family of VPN products provides a broad range of complete VPN solutions for intranet, extranet, and remote access applications.

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