The age of the virtual private network dawns
VIRTUAL private networks (VPNs) are the talk - er, the type of the town. Intranets made an entrance last year, but 1998 is the year of VPNs.
A private digital computer network is formed by establishing a permanent online circuit between any two points. If, for example, a bank connects its head office to the stock exchange via a digital leased line (Diginet service from Telkom) then a private WAN (wide area network) has been constructed.
Companies have been connecting their LANs (local area networks) together for years. Networking vendors have made a lot of money selling computer networking infrastructure.
Of course, software firms like Microsoft and Novell have also made money selling distributed application software that runs across these networks. But not everyone can afford to construct their own VPNs. And not everyone wants to.
Before you know it, you have a large network centre, a few dozen computer engineers on your payroll, and a fortune in digital machinery that depreciates at the speed of light. You start by installing a WAN link to your auditors for more efficient financial assistance, then you connect to your IT suppliers for faster online support, and of course you need to communicate with your advertising agency quickly in these fast-changing times, and before you know it, you have a big network infrastructure to maintain.
Did someone say Internet? The Internet is about sharing infrastructure. When a company connects its network to the Internet it can communicate with all the other organisations on this global communications medium. One link. One network. But there is also one problem.
The Internet is an open, uncontrolled infrastructure that is not private. A private network is exactly that - free of outsiders. So the question is: how do you construct a network that exploits cost-effective infrastructure (like the Internet) in such a way that your communications remain private, with guaranteed service levels?
Owing to the sensitive nature of the transactions they process, today's financial institutions specifically need secure computer communications with predictable response times and service level agreements.
Time is money and no one understands this better than banks, stockbrokers and insurance giants. An efficient, consistent infrastructure is what they need to make them global giants. Private networking provides you with the peace of mind required.
You control your network and hence accountability is straightforward. But the costs become significant and before you know it your company's IT department becomes a big entity in its own right - it is in this space that giants like EDS and Debis were born.
Sharing infrastructure by exploiting things such as the Internet is the way to go. The question is: how does one utilise a shared network and achieve the comfort zones that are so very necessary for today's global leaders?
VPNs can be created by utilising frame-relay switching technology to construct "virtual tunnels" that run across specific points on the Internet. ISPs (Internet service providers) with big communities can leverage their market-share which relates to a concentration point of common business partners.
In SA, service providers connect the country's leading financial institutions, media houses, advertising agencies, auditing firms, IT suppliers, and so on.
Any modern corporation can use this virtual real-estate to its advantage by connecting to it, and by creating a virtual traffic circle that allows inter-connectivity amongst suppliers, customers and business partners.
An ISP can provide a safe, predictable interconnect point for the members of its community. Apart from communicating with all the other parties on the Internet, the members of an on-line community can construct a VPN that has guaranteed information transfer rates or CIRs (committed information rates) by exploiting frame-relay switching across common interconnect points on an ISP's backbone.
For example, if a media house and an advertising agency both connect to a specific ISP, then those two companies could construct virtual tunnels between them facilitated by the ISP in the middle. Market-share is everything in this digital day of the virtual community.
Just think of the people you do business with - how many of them are on the Internet? Surely this can be utilised to the maximum benefit of all. Everyone wins in this age where we continually strive for faster, more efficient forms of digital communications.
This is not an easy one to comprehend. VPN services are a new phenomenon, and there are many kinds of VPNs. In today's text we are referring to a VPN that can be constructed by leveraging the critical mass of an established ISP. Yes, market-share in this case relates to a community. And a community needs to communicate. Look for virtual communities in the world's ISPs, they are there for you, waiting to be exploited.
And remember, everyone scores in this mathematical wonderland, because, after all, it is the people of cyberspace who make it what it is. ý Ronnie Apteker is the sales director for The Internet Solution