COMNET: Telcos detail IP VPN plans

Telecom powerhouses Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc. both made IP VPN-related announcements at this year’s ComNet tradeshow, going on in Washington D.C. through Jan. 31.

For its part, Sprint debuted a pair of IP VPN offerings the company plans to ready by the second quarter.

For those enterprises looking to make a more dramatic shift to VPNs, the company will make available a “Layer 3 (OSI Model) IP VPN,” said Barry Tishgart, director of data product marketing at Sprint in Overland Park, Kansas.

“This is a pure, network VPN that will run DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing) over our fibre core,” he said.

For those customers less ready to move to a completely new infrastructure, Sprint will soon offer its IP Intelligent Frame Relay service.

“This allows a more gradual migration of your corporate WAN from Frame Relay to IP,” said Peter Parish, director of enterprise solutions marketing at Sprint.

“We are putting IP awareness in your existing Frame Relay network,” he added.

As corporate customers go about the process of selecting particular VPN strategies, industry watchers suggest they pay close attention to services and security measures built into VPN offers.

“It is important to ask what kind of VPN a vendor is offering. Some VPNs are just dedicated services over fixed lines so they don’t offer the full flexibility and security of IP SEC,” said Tracey Vanik, an analyst with RHK, a telecommunications research firm in South San Francisco, Calif.

On the other hand, services – including Sprint’s new IP VPN offer – that rely on the IP SEC (Internet Protocol Security) standard are likely a good bet. “IP SEC tunnels give you a very secure way to route data traffic to a number of different locations,” said Vanik.

IP VPN offers that fit that bill are getting more looks from enterprise buyers after September 11, Vanik continued. “Network-based IP VPNs with IP SEC and encryption are really starting to take off.”

While Sprint was busy cataloging VPN services it plans to offer, WorldCom angled to hone its managed IP VPN offering with a new online reporting enhancement.

Specifically, the company debuted its new VIPeR (VPN Interactive Performance Reporting) system designed to give enterprise users access to detailed network performance figures.

Although its competitors offer online stats on latency and other performance measures, WorldCom officials claim VIPeR is the first to do so on a site-to-site basis.

VIPeR is also the first to offer online reporting functionality for CPE-based (customer premise equipment) VPN offerings, officials claim.

By giving corporate customers this added measure of control to double check SLAs (service level agreements) promised in contracts, the company is hoping to attract more outsourcing accounts.

“For the customer hesitant to outsource, this will be incentive,” said Audrey Wells, senior manager at Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom’s Dedicated Global IP VPN Services.

Until now, WorldCom has been able to provide only “canned” ASCII reports, said Wells.

By contrast, these instantaneous, site-to-site figures will allow enterprises to perform tasks such as checking the usage of T-1 lines, when considering an upgrade to a T-3. Also, they will be able to do things such as track latency during heavy traffic periods, said Wells.

VIPeR now comes bundled with the company’s fully managed offering only and has been extended to existing customers. WorldCom will offer the capability to customers of its other VPN services later in the year, Wells added.

On the VPN management front, Visual Networks – which tackles performance management of VPNs at the service boundary – used ComNet to highlight recent announcements.

Specifically, Visual Networks has debuted Visual Uptime 7.0 designed to give users a window into what is happening with private IP VPNs offered by carriers such as Equant.

In tandem, the company unveiled Visual IP Insight 5.5 Dedicated Suite to manage better public IP VPNs on dial up, DSL or cable.