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New business opportunities feed appetite for managed VPN services

Neil Roiter explores secure remote access possibilities.

Remote Possibilities Secure remote access is more than just a convenience for mobile and home-office workers. Ubiquitous high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi, and technologies like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), improve productivity, reduce costs and create business opportunities that not long ago were impractical, if not impossible.

That's feeding a growing appetite for VPN products with improved deployment and management capabilities. But, VPNs remain costly to manage and support, making a compelling case for managed VPN services. Leveraging MPLS for bandwidth-intensive apps like VoIP and video, for example, pushes companies to carriers and boutique services providers with that kind of infrastructure.

In-house VPN, for example, wasn't an option for field people at Hospice of Michigan in Detroit, says John Pryor, director of its information services. Some 250 roaming nurses and other home caregivers depended on dial-up to exchange case data via their tablet PCs. "It was onerous, and we weren't as responsive as we needed to be. There were a lot of frustrated users," Pryor says.

Managed VPN services from boutique Positive Networks are doing the trick for Pryor, whose IT staff of nine (including himself) supports several offices and field staff roaming across hundreds of miles on Michigan's lower peninsula. "We were looking for something that would give us the ability to perform syncs over broadband, but didn't require support from IS and was scalable," Pryor says.

Positive Networks furnishes security services typical of VPNs, such as firewalls, antivirus and policy-based network access control. Couple that with the usual arguments for a managed security service—technical expertise, 24x7x365 support instead of adding or further overtaxing IT staff, and economies of scale.

Further, carriers like MegaPath Networks, which specialize in communications services, can offer MPLS VPN as a cheaper and far more flexible alternative to dedicated lines and frame relay. The business implications are significant.

"MPLS VPN gives you the privacy of frame relay plus the fully meshed connectivity of an IP network," says Greg Davis, VP of marketing for MegaPath, whose VPN services are supported by an MPLS backbone. "We can control to the IP address space at customer sites, and do subnets and traffic partitions. For example, we can separate Wi-Fi and credit card traffic, and prioritize both ways."

Most of MegaPath's customers are retail companies, or the banking and health care equivalents—branch banks and clinics. "The biggest benefit is productivity enhancement," says Davis. "They can run real-time point-of-sale reports and better manage and deliver things like in-store music and advertising."

And for smaller businesses, like Hospice of Michigan, the ability to be more productive and responsive is difficult to quantify. "The results are positive. We serve 800 to 850 people daily," says Pryor. "Sync-ups of less than 10 minutes, as opposed to an hour, allow our 24-hour people to be very responsive."

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