OpenReach serves up VPN help for frame relay

OpenReach Inc. this week will introduce three IP Security VPN-based services designed to help companies cost-effectively extend their frame relay networks.

The company’s FrameFlow, FrameAid and FrameGuard services are aimed at creating secure IPSec links over the Internet to supplement or back up frame relay connections and to overlay VPN protection onto existing frame links.

These services, known collectively as Frame Relay Plus, give companies the opportunity to experiment with IPSec VPNs without buying into them entirely. While true that VPNs are gaining popularity, frame relay is still king. Frame relay access connections outnumber VPN links 1.2 million to 664,000, according to Vertical Systems Group.

OpenReach’s FrameFlow offering creates VPN tunnels between company sites as an add-on to existing frame relay links that are becoming congested. Users can off-load some of the traffic to the VPN and reserve the frame relay bandwidth for delay-sensitive traffic. To do this, an OpenReach VPN server is placed between the WAN router and the LAN or the Internet. It costs US$75 to US$1,750 per site, per month, depending on the size of the access line.

FrameAid sets up an OpenReach VPN gateway between the WAN router and the Internet, but the VPN only kicks in when the frame relay connections die. This is an alternative to commonly used dial-up ISDN circuits, which can be more costly and might not work when needed. These back-up lines can fail undetected because they often go unchecked when idle. With FrameAid, OpenReach monitors the backup to make sure it is up. FrameAid costs US$95 per site, per month.

FrameGuard sets up VPN links between LAN segments at different sites, protecting subnets from attacks and snooping that originate within corporations. The WAN connection would be a frame relay circuit. It is priced at US$295 per server, per month.

The services are aimed at companies such as ITW, a manufacturing conglomerate in Glenview, Ill., and OpenReach customer. John Klein, director of telecommunications at ITW, says VPNs can complement frame relay nicely because they can be less expensive for overseas links, can be used to quickly link different business units with separate WANs and can even deliver better performance in some cases.

As an alternative to services such as OpenReach’s Frame Relay Plus offerings, users could buy VPN appliances and install them in their networks, but that requires training and ongoing maintenance, says Jeff Phillips, an analyst with TeleChoice. With OpenReach, users download software to a PC to create a VPN gateway that is then linked to other gateways using software at an OpenReach network operations centre. OpenReach monitors the connections and uploads upgrades as needed. Customers can configure their networks via the Web by securing access-management servers at OpenReach operation centres.

OpenReach’s offering will give customers something to consider vs. hybrid frame/IP offerings from established frame relay service providers. AT&T offers IP-enabled frame relay, which combines the reliability and predictability of frame relay with IP’s ability to connect any sites to each other.