Networking

Understand your organization's needs before selecting a VPN hardware solution

Is your organization looking to set up a virtual private network (VPN)? If so, find out what you should ask yourself before purchasing even the first piece of equipment and what vendors to turn to once you know what you need.


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NetScreen is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on VPNs and Firewalls. For more information, check out TechRepublic's VPN and Firewall Center, or visit NetScreen's website.

In a recent article, I discussed the basics of virtual private networks (VPNs) and how they could be used in traditional company networks. I also discussed the differences between general and remote access virtual private networks.

This time, I’m going to focus on some of the hardware options that are available for your VPN and some questions to ask before choosing one.
TechRepublic is featuring a series of articles on this topic in every Republic this month. If you'd like more information on security or productivity issues relating to VPNs, click here.
Questions to ask before investing in a VPN hardware solution
As with any network solution, VPN hardware should be chosen based on the needs of your organization. Ask yourself the following questions before buying any piece of hardware:
  • How many remote access users will be connecting?
    Do you have the infrastructure to support multiple remote access accounts? If your organization has a lot of users who travel and/or work from home, the hardware that you purchase needs to be able to connect multiple remote users at one time.
  • How many users will be connecting at the same time?
    Will 10 or 100 users be connecting simultaneously? Knowing your user base is essential for selecting the appropriate hardware. You wouldn’t want to purchase VPN hardware that only supports a maximum of 20 simultaneous users when you need one that supports 50.
  • Will remote offices connect to your hardware?
    Connecting entire remote offices and connecting individual remote users are two entirely different challenges. Maintaining access for remote offices can be the difference between life and death for your company. How can your employees at your organization’s remote offices work properly if they can’t access the home network?
  • What kind of uptime does your organization desire?
    Not all VPN hardware is created equal. While some hardware may be cheaper than others, it may pay for your organization to invest in the more costly hardware, as the uptime may be generally better. Keep in mind, however, that the operating system shares a large role in uptime as well. Without a stable OS, you won't be able to maintain much of an uptime.
  • What kind of budget does your organization have to purchase hardware?
    Ideally, all equipment in every organization’s network would be top of the line. However, due to budgeting restrictions, your choices can often be limited. Despite this, it is important that you purchase the equipment that meets your budget. Don’t cut corners to add other services. Know what you need to offer your organization’s employees and make sure that it is available.

Many vendors offer VPN solutions
Now that you know what to consider when purchasing VPN hardware, what equipment is available on the market that meets your needs? There are several different vendors that offer VPN solutions. A select few of these vendors are listed below:
  • 3Com VPN Solutions
    3Com offers software solutions for your organization’s existing server hardware. You can also find products for mobile users, site-to-site, and secure extranet VPN systems.
  • Cisco VPN
    If you want top-of-the-line VPN hardware and software solutions, Cisco is your vendor of choice. However, Cisco’s products can be a bit pricey if you have a limited budget. Click here for information on Cisco’s small to medium VPN business solutions.
  • IBM OS/400 VPN solution for the AS/400 server
    IBM offers a VPN solution in its OS/400 operating system, designed specifically for its AS/400 server.
  • Lucent VPN Gateway (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
    Lucent Technologies offers a network-based dial VPN service with its VPN Gateway, where users can connect via the Internet using PPTP or IPSec.

The vendors listed here are by far the most popular and will give you the best value for your investment. However, if you want additional solution options, here’s a list of links to several other vendors. With a clear understanding of what your organization needs in a VPN solution, you should be able to find what you need from at least one of these vendors.
Is your organization taking advantage of virtual private networking? If so, how has it helped the employees of your company? Do you think that more organizations will adopt VPN down the road? We want to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave a post below or send us a note with your opinion.

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