Save real dollars with a virtual network

Using the Internet for secure transmission of your company's data

to buy a VPN: flexibility and cost,” says Zeichick. “If you want security, buy a leased line.”

The sheer variety of VPN technologies can detract from their charm when two or more companies want tunnels to each other, since many VPN technologies are incompatible. To allow a vendor or customer access to your internal network via the Internet, you’ll have to establish technical standards and conform to them strictly. Otherwise your systems may not work together.

Currently the Internet Engineering Task Force is working on a security standard for VPNs. “That will eventually provide the standardization and interoperability that’s needed,” says Fowler, although “it’s going to take a bit more time. It will probably be fairly well sorted out by the end of 1999 or early 2000.

“Business should be aware of the spectrum of ways you can go about implementing a VPN,” he adds. Your company can do it in-house if you have the expert manpower. But vendors will provide all-in-one solutions, sometimes including their ISP partners. Others find total solutions provided by ISPs who install the necessary hardware and software at your site. It all depends on the specifics of your business and your budget.

If you’re spending a fortune on toll and long distance dial-ins, do a careful cost analysis of what you’re spending now, everything your VPN solution would cost and what you would save. Ask vendors to put the numbers in writing, including any and all charges from end to end. Also consider a service-level guarantee that spells out financial penalties if there is any loss in your connection or disruption in your service. For example, the company promises there will be no more than a 2% disruption in your connection. If you experience anything higher, there’ll be a reduction in your bill. Whether a VPN is right for your company depends on your circumstances. If you can save a fortune now, then go ahead. Otherwise, it may pay to wait and watch while standards are established and prices fall.

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