Global roaming, virtual private network duo builds efficient intranet

Every now and then, a pair of ideas converges to change the way we do our daily work.


This is happening right now with a pair of technologies: virtual private networks
(VPNs) and global roaming (GR) services.


Government workers who telecommute or do a lot of work on the road have been overtaxing
the aged modem banks that offer the only full access to their office networks. One
promising solution has been to put a Web interface on their government business
applications, which they can then access over the Internet.


Many network administrators would prefer for remote employees to work this way, because
the connections would be managed by service providers, and the administrators would only
have to tend the Internet gateway.


But firewall limitations and older e-mail systems without Internet interfaces force
administrators to stick with dial-up systems for a while.


Meanwhile ambitious agencies that started setting up intranets to connect remote
offices have been stunned by the yearly cost of leasing private lines, which can run tens
of thousands of dollars per line. There's a better way.


Here's how VPNs and GR work separately, and together.


A virtual private network gives a dispersed office staff many of the benefits of
dedicated lines at lower cost. VPNs can be set up by a national Internet service provider
capable of allocating bandwidth as needed.


VPN users who connect to remote sites don't have to compete with the unruly surges of
data traffic on the Internet. VPN resources are consumed only while information is moving
on the network. When you're through, the resources go to someone else.


Global roaming is a cooperative effort by service providers to give subscribers easy
entry to their networks from anywhere in the world. National service providers such as
NetCom and AT&T WorldNet have a head start, but they don't yet reach all parts of the
world or even this country.


The Global Reach Internet Connection alliance at http://www.aimquest.com/
and iPass at http://www.ipass.com/ are two cooperative
systems that track and bill access time used by customers across 100 Internet providers'
networks.


Large national providers have been partnering with regional and overseas services,
because it's cheaper than establishing their own points of presence. Sprint Corp.'s
GlobalOne partnership with France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, for example, offers
Internet connections in 70 countries.


MCI Communications Corp. and British Telecom have an alliance called Concert, which
provides network access in 50 countries. InterNex Information Services supplies
multinational Web connections in collaboration with GlobalNet Internet Access Service.


Say your agency has several regional offices and a handful of overseas employees, all
tied together by a WAN. Now you want to reduce line costs and also build a new TCP/IP
network for intranet use.


Talk to a provider about an Internet-based VPN to connect your fledgling intranets at
each site. This lets you offload WAN management to the provider--a savings in time and
money.


Security is a concern when you send government data over the Internet, so make sure
your VPN does secure, encrypted packet switching over a dedicated portion of your
provider's network. Look for a provider that supports the evolving IP Security (IPSec)
protocols. The Internet Engineering Task Force maintains a Web site on IPSec, plus lists
of companies that use the protocol, athttp://www.mit.edu/-tytso/ipsec/companies.html.


The next step is to set up a system for handling all connectivity to the home office
over the Internet.


Customized software can streamline the process. For example, the Global Reach
consortium has an application called AimTraveler Intranet that lets service providers
coordinate the interactions between roaming customers and their home offices.


Such software will become common in the years ahead as more duties are offloaded from
internal networks to external service providers. How often do you post some of your work
to an external Web site so you can get to it from home? Probably you have one or more free
mail accounts so you can access messages anywhere.


Fast, flexible connectivity from anywhere is already possible. Making the model work
for your office is just a matter of building a Web interface for your systems and working
out the details of security and VPN development. A good white paper by AT&T on remote
access and details on Internet services appears at http://www.techguide.com/comm/remote.html.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journal- ist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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