Virtual private network market coming of age

LAS VEGAS -- At long last, the VPN market is starting to mature, at least judging from vendor and customer activity last week at NetWorld+Interop 2001.

With more than 30 VPN equipment makers and service providers pushing their wares, conference attendees were trying to decide which gear and services to buy or how to enhance their existing VPNs. They weren't just trying to figure out if they were interested in the technology.

"2000 was the year of VPN education, and 2001 is the year of making it happen," said Nick Frankle, director of product support for Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications VPN services.

Another attendee, Rick Major of Utah State College at Logan, said VPN technology has become so accepted that professors and staff at the school requested it by name. "They said they specifically wanted a VPN," the system specialist said.

Those seeking the newest in VPN technologies weren't disappointed last week, as vendors displayed VPN/firewall boxes that can protect sites connected to the Internet with gigabit links, and service providers offered VPN services for the first time or beefed up existing services.

Among those already sold on VPNs is Anthony Browser, a network analyst for the Legislative Data Center, which provides network services for the California state legislature.

He is gearing up to replace 172 $600 T-1 lines that now connect legislative offices with a VPN based on $60-per-month DSL lines. And though the cost savings will be dramatic, Browser said his organization moved cautiously to VPN technology.

"We wanted to take a year to look at it first. Before we offer a new service we want to make sure it works," he said.

In The Air Data, a Las Vegas service provider, was shopping at the show for VPN gear to support a wireless remote access service for lawyers in the courthouse district of Las Vegas. The company has spent a year researching gear for its network, which it hopes to have up and running this summer.

"You'll still have break-ins with VPNs, but you will with any technology. Hackers are pretty ingenious," said David Henry, In The Air Data's CTO.

VPN vendors are responding by augmenting their products with intrusion detection and other security. Check Point Software's entire display at N+I was dedicated to its hardware partners -- companies that add Check Point's VPN-1/Firewall-1 to their intrusion-detection gear, for instance -- and to service providers that manage customers' network security.

Some hardware vendors say alliances with VPN companies are a must. Storage products vendor Nishan is making sure its hardware works with offerings from VPN companies.

"With storage service providers offering services now, you have equipment at the customer's site, but also at the service provider's [point of presence]," said Prasad Pammidimukkala, director of software product management. The link between the two must be protected, and VPNs are a viable way to do that, he says.

In other VPN activity at the show, vendors displayed combinations of firewalls and VPN servers that can protect high-speed connections service providers now offer to corporate data centers. SonicWall showed its gigabit-firewall GX device, which performs VPN processing at 260M bit/sec and allows selective protection for the most important traffic. Also, Asita announced load balancing among the separate hardware modules on its 2G bit/sec VPN/firewall chassis.

Beyond new gigabit gear, RedSiren, a managed security provider, announced it is teaming with RedCreek to deliver VPN services with RedCreek's Ravlin VPN gear. FiberLink, which already had a dial-up VPN service called VPNterprise, has added intrusion detection provided by Network Ice's Black Ice software.

Optimism about VPNs stems from users' belief that the technology can save them money, said Henry Goldberg, a senior analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group. In addition, once VPN gear is in place, the time to turn up a new site is a matter of days, whereas getting a frame relay or ATM connection can take a month or more.

This story, "Virtual private network market coming of age" was originally published by Network World.

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