Primer: Managed Broadband Private Networking

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2005-07-08

What is it? A managed broadband virtual private network (VPN) is a service that provides secure, fast connections to remote offices and mobile workers. It combines VPN technology with the multitude of broadband Internet access services available from local phone and cable companies, as a less expensive alternative to traditional telecommunications services such as frame relay. The service provider takes responsibility for ensuring security and subcontracting service from multiple regional broadband access providers.

Who are the vendors? Mobile access service providers such as Fiberlink and iPass are extending their reach into broadband VPN service, with an emphasis on the mobile worker, through alliances with wireless and hotel Internet access providers. For example, iPass, which made its name operating local modem banks for corporate dial-up access, now has deals with iBahn (formerly STSN), Wayport, SBC FreedomLink and T-Mobile USA in the U.S., as well as similar access providers in Europe.

Virtela and the British firm Vanco put more emphasis on managing multiple contracts for DSL or other broadband services for corporations that want to migrate from more expensive ways to connect remote offices, such as frame relay or Integrated Services Digital Network.

In addition to providing a unified bill for the use of multiple access services, the vendors provide firewall, antivirus and configuration management software for laptops and remote desktops to allow them to operate securely over these networks.

Can't I do this myself? Of course. You can operate your own VPN and contract for DSL service from the local phone companies serving each of your offices, just as you can operate your own modem banks for dial-up access instead of relying on a remote access provider like iPass. But depending on your company's scale, geographic reach and mobility needs, you might find it more convenient to hire one firm as the prime contractor that takes overall responsibility for service levels and security.

Who uses it? Tom Broccoletti, a network manager at third-party insurance adjuster GAB Robins in Parsippany, N.J., reports saving about $1.3 million in the first year when he moved some 300 remote offices from frame relay service provided by MCI to Virtela's virtual network. Virtela also helps ensure network security for adjusters who connect from home or from hotel broadband services when they are on the road researching claims.

According to Broccoletti, one of the main things he gains from the relationship is simplicity. Finding local DSL providers and ensuring their quality of service becomes Virtela's problem, he explains: "If I had to call around to 400 DSL services, I couldn't do it."

Grant Thornton, a global accounting and business advisory services firm with more than 3,000 mobile and remote users in 110 countries, uses Fiberlink to provide remote access and ensure compliance with corporate security policies. iPass cites Underwriters Laboratories as one of the customers it helped migrate off an AT&T dial-up access service with dedicated modems to an Internet VPN service with both dial-up and broadband access options.