Global markets and logistics have prompted business owners to seek more efficient, secure, reliable and cost-effective communications networks. The emergence of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) satisfies their need.
VPNs, which are viable for businesses of all sizes, are private communications networks that use a public network such as the Internet to connect remote sites. They route “virtual” connections from a company’s private network to remote sites, or employees through public networks. In a practical sense, they eliminate the need for leased lines, which is a cost-saving benefit.
In many cases, they are managed turnkey systems that do not require the acquisition of new hardware or software or the availability of a dedicated IT staff. More importantly, they are secure and reliable.
Smart Business spoke with Jim Ferguson, president of sales and marketing for Mpower Communications, about the benefits of VPN and network security.
How do VPNs benefit a business?
Historically, businesses built and deployed mission-critical applications over private local- and wide-area networks (LANs and WANs), where the network infrastructure and access was tightly controlled. The end result was a private data communications network that had somewhat predictable application availability, performance and security.
Enter the Internet. The desire to use the Internet for business and the associated risk factors has created a new technology niche, because VPNs use encryption and tunneling to achieve one or more of the following goals:
- Connect users securely through their own corporate network (remote access)
- Link branch offices to an enterprise network (intranet)
- Extend organizations’ existing computing infrastructure to include partners, suppliers and customers (extranet)
VPNs extend trust relationships across an economical public network without sacrificing security. Ideally, a VPN should behave similarly to a private network; it should be secure, highly available and have predictable performance.
How secure are VPNs compared to LANs, WANs, etc?
Secure VPNs use encryption protocols to provide the necessary confidentiality (preventing snooping), sender authentication (preventing identity spoofing), and message integrity (preventing message alteration) to achieve the privacy over a public IP network.
Why would business executives want to move to a VPN, since part of the transmissions go over a public network, such as the Internet?
A well-designed VPN provides the same level of security as private networks using low-cost public Internet. That means significant advantages for businesses. For example, it:
- Extends geographic connectivity: local, regional, national or global.
- Reduces operational costs versus traditional WAN.
- Reduces transit time and transportation costs for remote users.
- Improves productivity and communications.
- Provides telecommuter, mobile user access to corporate network.
- Provides faster ROI than traditional carrier-leased or carrier-owned WAN lines.
- Shows good economies of scale, as the business adds locations.
Are the benefits of VPN more relevant to larger companies than to smaller ones?
They are equal to both. Currently, small business owners are looking closely at managed VPN providers. They often lack the IT support staff and capital funding to create and manage their own VPNs. Larger enterprises tend to manage their own VPNs. They have the IT staff, CAPEX and OPEX to support and manage their own WAN networks.
How does a company measure ROI when implementing VPN?
There are several ways, such as reductions of operating expenses and capital. VPNs allow end-user/corporate applications such as video conferencing, VoIP and bandwidth intensive applications that couldn’t be used with more expensive frame relay or point-to-point.
What questions should business executives ask when doing a cost-benefit analysis on VPNs?
They should be considering the benefits of managed turnkey solutions versus unmanaged those that require hardware, IT staff and so on.
JIM FERGUSON is the president for sales and marketing for Mpower Communications, which serves California, Nevada, and parts of Illinois. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.