Access to Link Business Sites
Secure virtual private networks
using high speed Internet access can be a cost effective way
to link commercial facilities.
By: John Shepler
A challenge for many businesses is how to cost
effectively link dozens, hundreds or even thousands of facilities
into a single enterprise. This includes businesses as diverse
as retailing, education, consulting, warehousing, communications
and transportation, to name a few. Traditional solutions, such
as point to point private lines and Frame Relay networks, have
their advantages. But a newer wide area networking scheme becomes
more and more attractive as the number of locations increases.
Why Point to Point Private Lines?
Point to point private lines offer the ultimate in availability,
predictable bandwidth and ironclad security. The reason is that
they are direct lines between two and only two locations. The
only traffic is your traffic. These are perfect for PBX tie lines
or VoIP telephony between facilities. They are also ideal for
constant high bandwidth applications such as video transport.
The downside is that you need a separate line between any two
facilities that want to communicate. Or, you can set up a star
network managed at the home office with private lines out to
each site. Costs are high and increase as each new location is
Mesh Networks for Many to Many Communications
What many businesses really want is a mesh topology where each
location is connected to a provider's network "cloud"
so that anybody on the network can talk to anybody else at will.
Frame Relay networks have been the traditional offering for this
arrangement with private carrier IP and MPLS networks now offering
similar functions. But there is another solution that can cost
much less than these private network solutions. It's the public
network bought and paid for as a public infrastructure. It's
The Internet's Huge Cost Advantage
The Internet? Yes. Think about it. The Internet is as ubiquitous
a communication facility as you can find. Even broadband high
speed data service is available nearly everywhere by landline,
wireless or satellite link. It's relatively cheap compared to
other networks because it is being utilized by millions of individuals
and companies. If you can work around its limitations, the Internet
is your most cost effective way of linking facilities nationwide
or around the world.
Technically, the Internet is never going
to be as reliable and predictable as a private network. It's
a public thoroughfare with anyone and everyone using it for everything
from downloading music to uploading web pages, blasting email
messages, making phone calls and playing games in real time.
Jitter, lost bits, variable data rates and long latencies are
the nature of the beast. Inherent security doesn't exist. That's
what's implied by public access.
Why Internet Transport Works for Many
Businesses Fortunately, many applications
are resilient to these issues. That's especially true if your
traffic is data, including email, point of sale verification,
accounting or inventory updates, EDI, faxes, email, or Web enabled
commerce. TCP/IP, the primary protocol of the Internet, was designed
to be robust in getting data files from point A to point B reliably.
If the link slows down temporarily or a few bits are dropped
along the way, the system compensates. In fact the Internet was
developed as a government initiative to create a communications
network that would work even with multiple failures in emergency
Fixing the Security Loophole
The one loose end is security. The answer is to encrypt your
private data so it can travel on a public medium privately. You
can't stop someone from intercepting your data packets, but you
can stop them from figuring out what the bits represent. This
is called "tunneling" through the Internet. By using
encryption and decryption software at each node, you create a
hybrid between a private and a public network that is called
a virtual private network or VPN. There are various standardized
methods for doing this, including IPsec or IP security, PPTP
or Point to Point Tunneling Protocol, and SSL or Secure Socket
How to Get a VPN For Your Enterprise
You can set up an enterprise VPN yourself or opt for a managed
VPN solution where a provider handles the routers and security
software. Each of your facilities connects to the Internet through
a VPN portal using a high speed connection, such as a T1 dedicated
Internet line for high reliability. With business grade connectivity
prices at an all time low, this could be a good time to install
a new VPN solution or upgrade your current inter-facility communications
system for higher speed and/or lower costs.
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