It’s been a year since Microsoft threw a big virtual private network (VPN) party with the introduction of Windows 2000. But guess what? Nobody came to the party! Of course, that doesn’t mean that VPN isn’t a hot topic; it’s just that organizations have been slow to adopt Windows 2000 on an enterprise scale. In an earlier article, I gave you my predictions for VPN technology in the year 2000. Now it’s time to follow up with some thoughts on why VPN hasn’t taken off like it should have.

For those of you who are a bit confused by the terminology, a VPN is, in theory, an encrypted tunnel through some other network (normally the Internet) that a company can treat as if it were a completely isolated and separate network. In practice, however, the situation is more complicated—and security is a major concern, as is limited bandwidth.

Although early adopters of VPN have encountered many problems, the biggest stumbling block seems to be the lack of standards and the fact that different vendors’ VPN products don’t integrate seamlessly. But major vendors are taking VPN seriously and coming to market with mature products, many of which actually conform to IPSec standards. We’re also beginning to see integration problems diminish.

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Many small VPN vendors have either faded away or been gobbled up by big players, such as Nokia, Nortel Networks, Cabletron, or Alcatel. The most important thing for managers to look at these days is whether the VPN products they are considering are completely IPSec-compatible. At a minimum, the products’ vendors should have membership in the VPN Consortium. Remember, a vendor’s promise to have a compatible system in the next release translates to “We can’t do it yet and may never be able to.” An interesting option is offered by etunnels’ VPN-On-Demand, a fully outsourced VPN service provider.

Down the road
Look for VPN action to get intense in 2001. Intel got the jump on the year by announcing four new VPN gateways and some important software upgrades in November. Intel 3130 and 3125 gateways can handle 96 Mbps of traffic. Although security is always a concern, the real problem with VPN today is the need for much greater throughput, especially encrypted throughput. Cisco has moved into VPN in a big way with its acquisition of Compatible Systems and, especially, Altiga. The switching giant is now pushing Altiga-based VPN products and is advertising complete end-to-end VPN solutions. 3COM, on the other hand, has virtually abandoned VPN. The only high point has been 3COM’s introduction of a crypto accelerator network card.

What’s your VPN strategy?

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