A former CEO of innovative internet service provider Concentric Network was among the first to implement virtual private networks in a carrier environment. Now, he sells a service that he says would solve the main problem preventing businesses from using this technology.
That problem is not access to broadband. Nor is it a mistrust of a new technology. Plain and simple, its the complex nature of setting up and managing VPNs, especially in the case of a multipoint campus location.
"Thirty minutes is a typical time needed for a VPN router configuration," says Hank Nothhaft, president and CEO of software services company SmartPipes, and the aforementioned former CEO of Concentric. "Say you need to configure 50 routers, and do it in a meshed network, and then manage them all. You get the picture."
The picture that appeared to speak volumes to SuperComm attendees in Atlanta earlier this month was a computer screen running a SmartPipes application, wiped clean of the familiar lines of code normally associated with VPN encoding and sporting a point-and-click interface. Business customers use SmartPipes technology in their VPN clients, and SmartPipes manages the back end.
SmartPipes spent 18 months working with WorldCom to develop its Global Internet Protocol Services application. Earlier this month, WorldCom rolled out the new service, branded IP VPN Customer Directed.
"Our current VPN products are based on a philosophy that control over a VPN should reside with the customer, so we could let the core grow as fast as it should," says Greg Moore, WorldComs vice president of Internet services. He emphasizes the importance of simplifying the process of VPN management for WorldCom subscribers. WorldCom execs liken a SmartPipes-powered upgrade to the transition from DOS to Windows in PC computing.
According to Nothhaft, SmartPipes has written — and keeps current — 17 billion lines of code to make the application happen. He says SmartPipes new service will give VPN technology the little push that it needs to be widely adopted.
"See this chart?" Nothhaft says, pointing to a bar graph drawn using numbers from IDC, Infonetics Research and TeleChoice that predicts a familiar "hockey stick" growth pattern for IP VPNs, jumping from less than $1.5 billion in 2000 to more than $10 billion in 2005. "We could have had this conversation in 1995, when we just started with VPNs at Concentric, and these numbers would have been the same — only the dates would be from 1995 to 2000."
But this time, Nothhaft says, the sales really will materialize, because of his new companys efforts. "I really think this is the year of the VPN," he says.