OpenReach, ClearPath, Fiberlink spruce up VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) were the order of the day May 20, with three companies announcing new products and services for the technology, including a new extranet service, antivirus policy enforcement and a managed VPN service for small businesses.

A VPN is a secure method of using the public Internet to connect to a remote location as if the user were on a private network with the remote location.

OpenReach Inc. took the wraps off a new secure extranet service that will allow companies to use any standard Intel Corp.-based PC to allow multiple extranet connections from different companies.

The service, called OpenReach Extranet, will allow companies to set up, configure and manage IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) VPNs for their partners, said Mark Tuomenoksa, chairman and founder of OpenReach, which is located in Woburn, Massachusetts. Normally, extranets require that the partner companies both have VPN boxes at their locations and that each different extranet partner be assigned a separate box, he said. That is, if a company has extranets set up with three other companies, it would have to install three individual extranet boxes.

OpenReach Extranet eliminates the need for multiple boxes because it allows administrators to define which companies have access to what resources based on access control lists, Tuomenoksa said. Extranets are created simply by adding the name of the device to be connected with to an instant messenger-style “buddy list,” he said. When both companies check off a box on the buddy list, the extranet connection is created, he said.

When the connection is initiated, both boxes send traffic to OpenReach’s network operations centre, which passes along all the IP address information, certificates and policies needed to create the extranet, he said. Administrators don’t need to configure anything except for the IP addresses of their internal network and the names of the devices to be connected to, he said.

Access control lists then limit what network addresses the partner company can see, he said. Once the extranet connection is established, all traffic runs directly between the two sites and does not go through OpenReach’s servers, he added.

OpenReach gives its software away and charges only for the type of connection it is used with, Tuomenoksa said. As such, the extranet capability is automatically available to all current OpenReach customers and can be downloaded via the OpenReach management console. All OpenReach services, including the new one, cost between US$75 and US$2,000 a month based on the connection, he said. The company may begin to charge more for some services in the future, he added.

ClearPath Networks offered its own VPN service Monday, this one designed to bring an affordable VPN to small and medium-sized businesses, according to Clifford Young, president and chief executive officer of ClearPath, based in El Segundo, California.

The service, dubbed iVPN, will offer businesses data, voice and multimedia VPN services using ClearPath’s MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network, he said. MPLS allows packets sent using it to include some routing information in their headers, thus cutting down on the amount of time needed to route them to their destination.

Users will install a router from ClearPath at their locations and then use their existing Internet connection for the service, he said. The router will be configured with the address of ClearPath servers, to which all data will be sent and then routed to its destination, he said.

The services, which are immediately available, start at US$184 month, plus the cost of Internet access, for the data service, he said. Pricing for the voice and multimedia services was not immediately available.

Lastly, Fiberlink Communications Corp. announced an upgrade to its Global Remote remote access client that will allow the software to recognize antivirus software from Symantec Corp. and deny access to corporate networks to users who aren’t running antivirus software, the company said.

When a user logs onto the VPN and attempts to connect to the corporate network, Fiberlink’s management software will check the user’s computer for up-to-date and active antivirus software and will deny access or update the software based on configuration, the Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, company said. The software will also check for antivirus definition updates once a PC is connected to the Internet but before it is logged on to the VPN, thus ensuring up-to-date protection, the company said.

The new version of the software will be available in July, but pricing has not yet been determined, Fiberlink said.