Virtual private networks

Organizations:

More firms using the Internet to provide low-cost secure communications systems
Bob Landgren
For SBT
Looking for a cost-effective way to enhance communications capabilities by keeping your widely spread offices, mobile workforce, customers and business partners connected to your office 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
Many small and large companies that have traditionally relied on expensive private leased lines to securely link offices and people together are now using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) via the Internet for a more reliable, secure and cost-effective way to conduct intra- and inter-company communication.
What is a Virtual Private Network and what can it do for your business?
Essentially, a VPN is a private network that uses a public-based
infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide secure, reliable and manageable business-to-business communications.
A VPN provides secure connections between several points. When your business partners, regional and isolated offices and/or mobile workforce need to remotely access your corporate network, a VPN enables them to do so – securely and inexpensively.
The effects of a VPN can have a
dramatic impact on any organization. Sales can be increased, product development can be accelerated and business partnerships can be strengthened in a way that was never before possible.
One of the greatest advantages of a VPN is that it offers substantial cost by reducing equipment maintenance and support expenses, while also significantly decreasing carrier and access charges.
The need for costly modem banks, long distance charges and 800-number charges are eliminated with a VPN.
Industry research estimates that operational cost savings of up to 60% can be realized over equivalent private networks.
Savings can be astounding
According to Forrester Research, when comparing the traditional cost of Remote Access Servers versus today’s Internet-based VPN, the cost differences are astounding. For 1,000 users,
traditional Remote Access Servers typically cost $1.50 per minute, while a VPN only costs 59 cents per minute.
Worldwide expenditures on VPN’s are expected to grow from $205 million in 1997 to $11.9 billion by 2001. Those predictions surpass the annual compounded growth rate of 72% for the electronic information security market as a whole.
Three types of VPNs
What types of VPN implementations should you consider?
There are three primary types of VPN implementations: intranet, remote access and extranet. An intranet VPN enables you to facilitate secure
communications between your internal departments and branch offices. If you need to connect your company to its remote or mobile employees, a remote access VPN is the answer for you. And, an extranet VPN will help you enhance communication capabilities with your strategic business partners, customers and suppliers.
Most businesses implement more than one type of VPN. The challenge is to provide a comprehensive, integrated and scalable solution that meets your business needs and goals. While you may only plan to implement one of the three basic types of VPN’s today, it is critical that the VPN solution that you select provides you with the capability to add, either or both of, the remaining two types easily and seamlessly.
In order to successfully implement a secure, reliable and manageable VPN, it is important to incorporate security and traffic management strategies into your solution.
The security component of a VPN should contain the following three elements:

  • Access control: Dictates the freedom a VPN user has and ultimately controls the access that customers, business partners and employees have to applications and varying portions of your network. A VPN without access control only protects the security of the data, not the network itself.
  • Authentication: Data authentication, which ensures that the message arrives in the same form as when it was originally sent, and user authentication, which verifies that the sender is who he says he is, are both important for an enterprise-wide VPN implementation.
  • Encryption: Scrambles the data, so that only those users that have the key to read the information are able to decode the message.
    In order to guarantee the performance of your VPN, you need to make sure that, as your network traffic naturally increases, your VPN solution is scalable and reliable. A traffic management policy that allocates the appropriate bandwidth for in-bound and out-bound traffic based on merit or importance will help ensure the performance of mission-critical applications. Your network manager should be able to tune the network traffic using weighted priorities, limits and service guarantees.
    A VPN can provide tremendous flexibility and cost savings. However, the benefits may be negated if the solution ignores critical security and traffic management issues and, most importantly, if it does not align with your corporate business goals and needs.
    What’s needed for implementation
    What do you need to implement a VPN?
    All offices that implement a VPN will require an Internet connection, supplied by an Internet Service Provider (ISP), and a firewall, used to protect corporate information on internal networks. Also recommended is some form of encryption technology, providing you with the ability to conceal data as it travels through the Internet, while still allowing routers to direct the data via a separate, unencrypted header. Certain firewalls offer encryption capabilities, providing you with a secure link across the Internet.
    In addition to providing remote office connectivity to your corporate network, a VPN can also be used to provide remote users (mobile workforce, business partners, and customers) with corporate network access as well. By dialing in to their local ISP, they can gain access to your corporate network without incurring long-distance toll charges. Encryption software is available for these remote users so that their data is encrypted as it travels across the Internet. Authentication of these remote users before they gain access to your corporate network provides an additional level of security.
    For the price of an Internet connection, router and firewall, you are providing your employees, customers and business partners with connectivity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    Bob Landgren is a partner in and branch manager of the Milwaukee branch of Whittman-Hart, Inc. Small Business Times readers can contact him via e-mail at bob.landgren@whittman-hart.com
    Virtual Private Networks
    4 A VPN is a private network that uses a public-based infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide secure, reliable and manageable business-to-business communications.
    4 The effects of a VPN can have a dramatic impact on any organization. Sales can be increased, product development can be accelerated and business partnerships can be strengthened in a way that was never before possible.
    4 One of the greatest advantages of a VPN is that it offers substantial cost savings by reducing equipment maintenance and support expenses, while also significantly decreasing carrier and access charges.
    4 Industry research estimates that operational cost savings of up to 60% can be realized over equivalent private networks.
    4 There are three primary types of VPN implementations: Intranet, Remote Access and Extranet.
    4 The benefits of a flexible and cost-effective VPN may be negated if the solution ignores critical security and traffic management issues and, most importantly, if it does not align with your corporate business goals and needs.

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