One customer, three offices, and an antiquated network. This is a job for a VPN service provider.
Delivering time-sensitive information is the essence of Netscan iPublishings business. Unfortunately, information wasnt flowing freely among the small firms three offices in Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Ten editorial staffers based in Florida report breaking legislative and regulatory news from print and Web sources. Their data is sent to Netscans Virginia headquarters, where it is combined with background content and delivered to corporate customers.
"The Florida office transfers about 50[MB] to 100MB of data per week in files sent throughout the day," according to Netscan president and founder Harvey Golomb. Netscan originally used e-mail attachments, then tried FTP, as the volume of data transfers grew.
"FTP is inherently unreliable," notes Golomb. "Its subject to interruption and difficult to monitor." Unattended overnight FTP sessions went awry, endangering the firms production schedule. An employee had to babysit every FTP session, which could take up to 90 minutes and require several retries.
Seeing the Light Golomb knew that a VPN (virtual private network) could solve his reliability problems. But a traditional VPN solution would require expensive hardware in each office as well as IT staff that Netscan didnt have. He could not turn to an ISP for VPN service, because no single ISP offered broadband access in all three of Netscans locations.
Then, while jogging with a workout buddy, Golomb learned of OpenReach, a unique VPN service provider founded in 1999. OpenReach provides LAN-to-LAN VPN connectivity, particularly well-suited for small-to-midsize businesses with multiple locations. Setting up each of Netscans offices took about a week, according to Golomb, and under two hours of hands-on work per location.
"They just used an obsolete PC we had sitting in a closet" to host the VPN gateway at Netscans headquarters, Golomb says. The minimum requirements are a 200MHz Pentium PC with at least 32MB of memory, 100MB of disk space and a 10Mbps or 100Mbps Ethernet connection.
"Each site gets a dedicated PC plugged into its Ethernet network and an Internet access device," explains Wayne Wilkening, the OpenReach systems engineer who handled Netscan. "On that platform, we install our Linux-based gateway software." The gateway, dubbed TrueSpan, can be downloaded from OpenReachs customer Web site or delivered on CD-ROM.
The TrueSpan suite includes the Linux operating system, IPSec tunnels, 168-bit triple-DES encryption, digital certificates, a packet-filtering firewall and all required drivers.
Once TrueSpan is installed, the customer logs on to OpenReachs Web site and answers basic configuration questions about the locations LAN. The site creates configuration files and downloads them to a floppy disk on the customers LAN. TrueSpan uses these files to catalog all of the LANs devices and IP addresses.
"Then you just specify which devices should have access to the VPN and add locations." Adding locations to a VPN is as simple as adding instant-messaging correspondents to ones AOL buddy list. OpenReachs network operations center (NOC) keeps track of locations by name. This is a boon for smaller businesses that often employ connections with variable IP addresses.
"Training was negligible," says Golomb. "We just drag-and-drop files from one folder on the VPN to another. Theres no question of reliability now. A file transfer that used to take 90 minutes now takes just 15 minutes" and does not require constant monitoring.
The Power Is in the NOC
"What makes OpenReach unique is the customers ability to bring up or take down VPN connections between locations easily," says Ira Sibulkin, network engineer for CompuLink. He installed TrueSpan at Netscans Pennsylvania office. "The user can enable/disable tunnel connections via OpenReachs administrative Web site. You cant do that with other VPNs unless you reconfigure routers or turn them off."
OpenReach also monitors its customers networks 24 x 7 from its NOC in Woburn, Mass. "Weve had situations where one of our offices lost its connection, and OpenReachs monitors called headquarters before our own people did," says Golomb. "Were really not paying for monitoring services, but were getting them nonetheless."
Price Is Right, Market Is Hot
OpenReach charges for throughput, not by the tunnel or user as other VPN services do. Pricing ranges from $99 per month for up to 500Kbps, to $499 per month for up to 8Mbps. Annual contracts save approximately 10 percent off monthly pricing.
OpenReach relies exclusively on channel partners. The companys partner program offers two years worth of commissions per contract, based on the contract duration and number of sites connected. OpenReach provides prequalified leads to channel partners and pays commissions even on sales that a partner doesnt personally install.
The market for VPNs is projected to grow from $5.1 billion in 2001 to $36 billion in 2004, according to Infonetics Research Inc. Small multiple-location businesses like Netscan are especially hungry for VPNs that open the door for intranet , B2B and security applications.
A solutions provider that partners with OpenReach can enjoy ongoing revenue, platform and ISP independence, and a secure VPN platform upon which to base other value-added services.
Happy customers certainly help the cause, too.