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Refining the VPN: users are discovering advantages to Secure Sockets Layer virtual private networks

Network World Canada; Downsview Vol. 13, Iss. 14,  (Jul 25, 2003): n/a.

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Physicians at Catholic Health System in Buffalo, N.Y. want access to medical information and images. Managers at Perry Manufacturing Co. in Mount Airy, N.C. need remote access to e-mail and applications running on an AS/400. At these businesses and elsewhere, users are becoming increasingly reliant on remote access to business applications and data.

Yet even in the era of the Internet, there has been no easy and secure way to provide remote access to the data and applications users need. Dialup connections, terminal emulation tools, Internet portals and traditional virtual private networks (VPNs) can do some of the job, but each has its limitations.

"We had an old dialup product to reach the AS/400, but no e-mail," recalls Howard Ward, Perry's director of information systems. The company had Cisco Systems Inc.'s Easy VPN for e-mail but found it to be too slow, he adds.

Catholic Health wanted to give physicians remote access to patient information and medical test results. Its first attempt - sending medical information and images via fax - proved cumbersome. Then it deployed a VPN based on the IPsec protocol. That provided session encryption and authentication and enabled network-level access to resources, but it also proved problematic. "Some physicians still use our VPN, but there are real support issues. You need to configure software on each client. What we wanted was an application-level gateway of some sort," explains Douglas Torre, director of networking and technical services at the health care services provider in western New York.

Both he and Ward have turned to Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPN appliances, which provide that application-level gateway by allowing remote access over the Internet to Web-friendly applications.

No-Hassle VPNs

While IPsec VPNs provide broad, flexible network-level access, SSL VPNs let remote users access specific applications over an intranet or the Internet...