In today’s business environment, timely access to information is paramount. Whether it’s sharing accounting information between branch offices or enabling a roving sales force to log on to the company network to check on product availability, connectivity can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
Until recently, the main connectivity options were direct dial-in via remote access server or wide area networks over leased lines — both options that could potentially cost a company tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the alternatives for managing a far-flung enterprise are growing. The rise of virtual private networks (VPNs) has added a relatively low-cost option for companies that currently have high connectivity charges.
A VPN is usually a part of the public Internet that uses software and/or hardware encryption solutions to carve out a private “tunnel” for your company’s communications. Businesses that incur long distance or 800-number charges when employees dial into the network can potentially save thousands of dollars with a VPN — since the Internet is essentially toll-free.
A VPN can help establish a wide area network at a much lower cost than using leased lines, says Dennis Fowler, author of Virtual Private Networks: Making the Right Connection (Morgan Kaufmann Publishing, 800-745-7323). He estimates cost savings of up to 60% for remote access, and 40% for network and extranet applications.
Fowler outlines the three scenarios for which businesses should consider a VPN:
n Remote access to your company’s network. This allows your sales force to dial into the network from anywhere in the country to get leads, check product availability and prices, and start orders.
Concentric Network Corp.
Offers high-speed dedicated connections as an alternative to dial-ups. These range from $895 to $2,295, depending on the bandwidth and usage level.
GTE’s Remote Access Service
Includes VPN client, management and digital certification, starts at $11.95 per user (not including connectivity charges).
n Connecting branch offices to headquarters. A VPN will allow all branches to have access to the same data.
Offers VPN Advantage Service, which includes the hardware gateway, 24-hour-a-day/seven-day-a-week management and digital certification for $1,995 per month (includes connectivity charges).
Giving business partners limited access to your network (also known as establishing an extranet). Allows vendors to check inventory and take responsibility for delivering products Just In Time, without effort on the customer’s part.
Offers high-end certified security hardware. RADguard’s Gateway hardware costs about $6,400 for each location and will protect an entire enterprise, regardless
While a VPN can lower the cost of connecting over phone lines, the connections aren’t good enough for business voice calls, says Alan Zeichick, principal analyst with Camden Associates (www. camdenassociates.com). “The performance of the Internet cannot be guaranteed, thus packets are subject to unpredictable loss or delay,” he explains. “VPNs are ideal for applications that are tolerant of this behavior, such as least-cost fax routing or data replication or backup.”
The technologies that create VPNs can be based on software, hardware or a combination of the two. Software is often cheaper, and hardware more secure, but a VPN is not a complete security solution. “There are two reasons