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Backbone-Neutral VPNs For Greater Efficiencies, Redundancy, And Connectivity


Until recently, dedicated, high-speed, point-to-point connections were the primary solution for corporations that needed to securely transmit large amounts of data between facilities. But many IT executives became frustrated with the rising financial and management costs of wide area networking across private networks. As IT resources and budgets increased, so did expectations, which continue to grow at exponential rates. IT managers are seeking ways to be more competitive and more efficient. To achieve these goals, many of them are turning to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): global, Internet-based remote access solutions.

A VPN solution is a single unified communication architecture that incorporates any combination of dedicated connections, Internet connectivity, dedicated point-to-point connectivity, and remote dial-up, as well as any necessary hardware and software. They are particularly beneficial to users with a medium to large mobile workforce, defined as 100 or more remote users.

Because VPNs are Internet-centric, they offer the redundancy, security, and ubiquity that IT executives seek. VPNs can also be used in conjunction with a company's existing Internet connectivity. The client software offers the utmost flexibility and scalability, plus VPNs are easily implemented in a Windows NT environment, an environment where many dialers have failed. Another advantage of VPNs is that they can provide connectivity to business clients who have their own Internet connectivity. For security, this access can be limited to one server rather than the whole network. Previously, that connectivity was only available to business clients on the same private network.

CIOs and CFOs will find VPNs just as beneficial as IT managers. In general, VPNs deliver cost savings, as much as 50 to 80 percent over private networks, with higher savings weighted toward heavier global or international usage. Return on investment (ROI) can be achieved in as little as 60 days.

Global remote VPNs enable local dial-up and access from home or just about anyplace in the world.

Given that VPNs provide so many benefits and such a significant reduction in remote access expenses, IT executives are increasingly anxious to implement their own VPN. However, IT executives should be careful before taking on the design and deployment of a VPN themselves. In most cases, corporate IT departments are already overloaded with projects and deadlines and do not have the resources or experience necessary to achieve the efficiencies VPNs can yield. A better course of action is to find a vendor who can provide a comprehensive turnkey VPN solution. Relying on a vendor that specializes in designing, implementing and managing VPN solutions will almost always result in a faster and more secure ramp-up, and a quicker ROI.

When choosing the VPN solution that best fits your needs, take into consideration your budget, functionality, data protocols, users' requirements and habits, security issues and policies, support issues, management issues, and future requirements. There are many VPN platforms available. Make sure your solution has the functionality you require. Here are some simple guidelines:

Your VPN solution provider should be backbone-neutral. That way, your VPN solution will seamlessly interface with multiple ISPs and you will be assured the necessary redundancy. In addition, the number of POPs available worldwide will reduce costs through increased availability of local dial-up access.
Your VPN solution provider should support multiple networking platforms and have experience integrating into various architectures. This will reduce your start-up costs and provide more effective security solutions specifically tailored to your requirements.
Your VPN solution should integrate multiple capabilities, such as e-mail and Web browsing.
Finally, you want a VPN solution provider who delivers a custom-tailored, turnkey solution. By relying on a vendor who delivers a comprehensive solution, you have one point of contact. You won't have to manage multiple vendors, and you won't have to deal with the associated finger pointing between vendors if something goes wrong.
It is not unusual to expect rapid deployment of an Internet-based VPN solution. If a methodical, comprehensive approach to design, development, testing and deployment is utilized, it is not unreasonable to expect a 100-user system to be up and running in one to two months. Likewise, a 40,000-user VPN can be deployed in as little as 12 months.

VPN solutions also offer flexibility in pricing. Pricing is generally offered on a flat-rate or usage-based basis, or in combination, so that you can cost effectively provide connectivity to both occasional and power users.

Those are some basic, but key considerations when choosing your VPN solution and provider.

We can look to two VPN deployments to see the benefits of backbone-neutral virtual private networks in action.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System
The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) is a consortium of several regional minor health care facilities including four hospitals, a medical school, and several clinics that provides a continuum of care for patients in the greater Philadelphia area. When UPHS first established the IT infrastructure in the mid-1990s it was a patchwork quilt of solutions.

Each entity came to the UPHS consortium with its own homegrown IT solution and infrastructure designed to answer its own individual needs. Essentially, the architecture comprised individual LANs, each with its own security solution and end user equipment. Globally, the system was not secure -- a necessity for patient records and critical business information that was transmitted across the system -- and the various LANs rarely communicated with each other.

With Internet access as the base layer of the VPN solution, LAN to LAN connectivity integrated all of UPHS' existing infrastructures. UPHS avoided expensive startup costs because there was no need to rebuild existing infrastructures.

The whole process of VPN planning, development, testing, and rollout to the first 100 mobile users -- an equal number of physicians and administrators -- took only four months. Four months after rollout, users quadrupled to 400, and another 600 users will be added within the next year.

An encryption and user authentication solution provides UPHS with secure, 24x7 access to critical clinical or business information from just about anywhere around the world. The result is not only cost savings for UPHS, but also more productivity at every level. For example, only weeks after deployment the chairman of Radiology was reviewing and signing off on highly confidential charts securely and quickly from a local phone number while vacationing overseas.

UPHS achieved annual operating cost savings of more than $50,000 when compared to the previous cost of operating its motley IT infrastructure. ROI was achieved in less than six months.

SAP America Finds VPNs More Efficient And Cost-Effective For Its Power Users
SAP America replaced its legacy in-house remote access system with a backbone-neutral VPN solution providing connectivity through hundreds of ISPs globally. SAP America operates throughout North and South America, but users travel throughout the world, and in particular, in Europe and Asia.

SAP America has 3,000 users, best classified as power users. Collectively, they use between 6.2 and 6.5 million minutes a month, or approximately 2,100 minutes per user per month.

SAP America specifically wanted a backbone-neutral solution to provide the security, redundancy, and local access availability such power usage required. The VPN solution integrated into their existing infrastructure, which included a hardware encryption solution from Nortel Networks. As a turnkey solution, though, authentication is managed in the provider's network operations center (NOC). With their VPN solution, SAP America achieved an ROI in approximately 60 days.

Both the SAP America and UPHS solutions demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved through a backbone-neutral VPN solution. The SAP solution supported power users worldwide. The UPHS solution was more localized in scope with far fewer mobile users. Both companies were able to roll out their solutions quickly and achieve cost savings almost immediately.

James Sheward is co-founder and CEO of Fiberlink. Fiberlink is a backbone-neutral Enterprise Service Provider (ESP), providing clients connectivity through multiple ISPs globally, to help them leverage the vast public Internet infrastructure. Fiberlink designs and deploys cost-effective, custom-tailored, turnkey, Internet-centric Virtual Private Network solutions.



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