Utilizing the services of an application service provider (ASP) to connect with customers, suppliers, branch offices and mobile workers can be a great advantage. "We use Citrix to access PC-based software hosted by
," said Bill Wein, president of
Media Management Resources
, an executive search and consulting firm based in Denver, Colo. "Now, our offices in Denver and Florida, as well as those operated by independent professionals, can use the Internet to access a proprietary database software solution we developed for managing job applicants."
Connecting to remote workers and business partners using dialup links and broadband services such as xDSL and cable modems via the public Internet, though, can expose sensitive information to hackers and corporate spies. To secure corporate extranets, ASPs can employ cost-effective virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect data with tunneling and encryption technology instead of purchasing expensive dedicated and/or frame relay circuits.
Not all VPN solutions are equal, however. "Because of the differing VPN standards and interpretations used to implement them, some VPN products will have interoperability problems," said Johnnie Konstantas, product marketing manager for
Check Point Software Technologies
, a leading provider of Internet security solutions. Some of the basic things you should look for from your provider are as follows:
Ease of use: Client software installation and the authentication processes should be as easy and seamless as possible.
Compatibility with other security solutions: The VPN solution should be compatible with firewalls, content filtering and other security measures.
Interoperability: The ASP and end users should use an Open Platform for Security (OPSec) certified VPN solution that ensures product interoperability.
Strong authentication: The ASP should employ an authentication process that will prevent connecting to a laptop that is stolen, for example.
Remote updates: The ASP should be capable of distributing software and functionality updates to remote VPNs.
Traffic control: To support quality of service (QoS) guarantees, the ASP should have the ability to manage bandwidth -- by user, by group, by application, by time of day, etc. Using virtual private network technology is a cost-effective way of expanding your ASP-based e-business initiatives. "Our Internet-based extranet has saved us a lot of money," Wein said.
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