Term Paper: Virtual Private Network VPN

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Virtual Private Networks Use in Business Partnerships

Virtual Private Networks

The Virtual Private Network Consortium, (et.al.) defines Virtual Private Networks (VPN) as a private data network that makes use of the public telecommunication infrastructure, maintaining privacy with a tunneling protocol and security procedures. Findlaw (et. al.) defines a VPN as a way to provide remote access to an organizations' network via the Internet, VPNs send data over the public Internet through secure "tunnels." The concept of "tunneling" in the context of VPN is the connecting of remote PCs and laptops through secured lines. This contrasts with leased lines including Electronic Data Interconnection (EDI) approaches where the line is dedicated at all times. VPN creates secured connections through tunnels over the Internet.

What is driving the pervasive adoption of VPNs is the burgeoning growth of channel management and partnership strategies that rely on a widely distributed set of selling and service partners. The need to support these partners has a direct impact on their performance as channel partners as Columbus (1) states in his analysis of channel performance metrics, the level of integration and ability to share data confidentially is a major factor in overall partner growth and profitability in the short-term, and loyalty in the longer-term. According to Columbus & Askegar (et.al.) the role of integration with channel partners is a primary determinant of getting a strong Return on Investment (ROI) from partner activities.

Columbus & Askegar (et.al.) make the point that the more pervasive, more trusted, and the more all encompassing integration is, the greater the level of ROI and performance of partners.

In terms of partnering with employees and subcontractors, the forecasts of growth specifically of this type of worker continue to support the need for secured VPNs and the use of streaming video, online instructional tools, and other applications that require high levels of creativity and focus. This market dynamics is further explained Gartner Groups' report, Teleworking: The Quiet Revolution (14) forecasts that by 2008, there will be 41 million corporate employees globally will spend one day a week teleworking, and 100 million will work from home at least one day a month. The highest proportion of teleworkers globally will be in the United States. Table 1, Global Teleworker Forecast, illustrates the trends that Gartner Group forecasted.

Global Teleworker Forecast from Gartner

With so many organizations looking for the cost and productivity gains by adopting teleworking policies, VPNs are going to grow in size, sophistication of features, and security. The next part of this paper examines the pros and cons of adopting VPN s in organizations.

Reasons why Companies Are Adopting VPN Technologies to Connect With Partners

The biggest advantages of setting up and using a VPN include lower costs of connections, greater availability of confidential resources throughout a widely distributed network of partners, and scalability of VPN as a technology vs. other alternatives. A fourth advantage is the ability to create secured connections quickly for any associate at any location where broadband access is available, according to AMR Research (5).

Regarding the first advantage of lowering costs, VPNs rely on a consistent broadband connection from the company's main servers to the Internet. In essence, this is comparable to the cost of having an Internet site accessible from servers inside the company. In a sense, companies are underwriting the cost of their VPN connections with Internet access charges for having a website up and running. The costs are also reduced is that they don't require dedicated leased lines for communicating, as has been mentioned earlier with regard to EDI connections. Further, VPNs don't necessarily require partners to incur long-distance telephone charges to get Internet access. The charges for connecting to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be present depending on the configuration, yet all this is needed are a broadband connection to make VPN on client systems work.

The second is availability of confidential data at remote geographic locations, delivered to partners on an on-demand basis. This is a definite advantage in that it greatly cuts down on the need to contact associates in the home office to obtain needed financial and performance data to serve customers, track performance relative to plan, and build strategies at the partner level to increase market penetration, for an example. The fact that VPNs are extensively used by partners preparing pricing quotes and proposals shows the advantage of having a secured and always-on connection to a company's most important information assets.

The third advantage of scalability, both of the technology and VPN applications in general. First, the technologies that are used for the creation of VPN connections include Extended Mark up Language (XML), Secured Hypertext Protocol (HTTPS), and others. These technologies are specifically built to scale across the Internet and supports hundreds or thousands of users concurrently. The scalability of VPN from a business perspective is more focused on brining up multiple locations at the same time; thereby creating a "virtual network" of offices that connect with one another independent of direct control from one centralized location. This characteristic of being able to scale across multiple locations and create a network of connections is how VPNs obtained their name.

The fourth advantage of VPNs is their security. The Virtual Private Network Consortium, (et.al.) has named three important security technologies for this evolving approach to connecting systems. They are trusted VPNs, secure VPNs, and hybrid VPNs. The Consortium delineates the differences of these security approaches in their white paper mentioned in the references in this document. To summarize their findings, it is possible to create VPNs that are immune from snooping, listening in or even re-touting traffic. While VPNs' security is a major advantage, many companies including Microsoft, Oracle, and Symantec and others continue to invest their R&D funds into finding even strong encryption methods to assure security of VPN traffic.

Cons of Adopting VPN Technologies

Given the major cost advantages of VPNs it would lead one to believe that every company would be smart to get one installed for connecting its many partners, resellers, distributors, dealers, and service providers. Aberdeen Group (23) shows a typical network topology where the use of VPN technologies make it possible to connect with partners outside the firewall and coordinate many processes of sharing and receiving information.

For all these benefits, there are also significant disadvantages, or cons, to the concept of using VPNs. These include the fact that VPNs require a great deal of understanding regarding security and authentication technologies, and it's a risk to try and set up a VPN for a large company when working with entry points to servers from the outside world. These entry points or ports are scanned often by hackers looking to gain access to a company's servers, and to alleviate the risk of an attack takes much knowledge of networking and VPN authentication. Second, VPN performance is directly related to the speed of the Internet connection for a company. A slow Internet connection makes for a very slow VPN connection. Third, software and security companies offering VPN software today have many different standards, so the process of integrating multiple VPN systems can be difficult and expensive. Also in the context of integration is the need to accommodate varying protocols and the support for legacy systems in the VPN framework many companies create. Finally, the security issue, while an advantage today over simple dial-up connections to a server, is considered a threat if not done completely accurately.

VPN Case Study in Channel Management

Sabre (1) Travel Network is heavily dependent on its use of partnerships and alliances for time-sensitive information on the availability of flights, hotel rooms, and all forms of transport. At the center of the Sabre Network are 50,000 travel agency locations located throughout 113 nations. All these travel agency locations rely on a VPN connection to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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