VPNs highlight subdued Interop

The effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington were felt throughout the world, and the Networld+Interop Fall trade show in Atlanta was no exception.

Despite the gloom and disbelief that pervaded the show’s seminars and events, however, and despite the fact that many vendors and attendees left the conference long before it officially came to a close, organizers managed to carry on with many of the scheduled seminars.

One of the main topics discussed this year was virtual private networking, which had a series of seminars dedicated to it stretching over two days. A variety of topics were discussed by a panel of three VPN experts, including Frederick Avolio, principal of Avolio Consulting, a network security consultancy in Lisbon, Md.

During one seminar entitled “Implementing Remote-Access VPNs” Avolio stressed that getting a remote-access VPN up and running involves a great deal of work in which every desktop typically has to be individually serviced. This in turn means that IT departments should think long and hard about whether they really need a remote-access VPN, especially those in large enterprises.

“If you’re talking about a 10-person company, it doesn’t much matter,” Avolio said. “It doesn’t cost very much. If you’re talking about a 300-person sales force, though, it’s going to be very difficult. It may mean touching every desktop. You have to decide whether the benefit is worth the cost; you have to ask yourself, do you really want to do this?”

If the decision is still one in favour of implementation, Avolio offered some tips on how to best handle the implementation challenge.

“There are ways around this problem,” he told an audience of about 150 people. “If your entire sales force comes in for a meeting bringing their own PCs with them, you gather them all together, saving you from having to go to everyone’s hometown and meeting one on one with everyone (to install the necessary technology on their computers.)”

Another question to ask yourself, Avolio pointed out, is just what it is you want to protect on your VPN. Once that is determined, network managers have to decide on the right security protocol to use in transporting that traffic.

“Do you really need an IPSec VPN or are you only providing remote access for e-mail? You may use an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection, or some other means of getting the information to the individual. If it’s just access to an internal Web page, maybe we can protect it over an SSL connection rather than a full-fledged IPSec deployment. You have to consider that.”

In addition to the marquee two-day track on VPNs and another on voice over IP, a number of vendors managed to make announcements at the show.