Thursday, February 15, 2007

Teleworker Guide - VPN

A VPN is a secure communication channel between someone in the unregulated unsafe Internet and your private corporate network. It is often refered to as a VPN Tunnel, and it's what is used for letting employees securely connect to your resources and applications.
This usually is an application that is installed on your employee’s laptops that establishes a connection to the office’s firewall or VPN concentrator. From that point, is like your employee is virtually connected to the corporate network and can safely check email, download documents, and access applications.
Another format is having a small appliance (the size of a Linksys router) that will create the secure channel to the main office. That offloads the laptop from doing all the computer intensive algorithms for securing the communication. So companies provide the employer with a small box, that he or she plugs into his Linksys router at home, and the appliance automatically protects all communications between that house and the corporate network. It can't get any easier than that!
Now, here comes the technology part, there are mainly two types of VPN: IPSEC and SSL. SSL VPN is what you get when you do online banking and shopping, and you see the HTTPS prefix on your browser. IPSEC is a much more secure way, less processor intensive for the server and client, and more reliable way.
What are the benefits of a VPN?... well, you are extending the whole office to wherever your employee is. He or she can check emails from a Hot Spot Internet access at a Barnes and Noble, or even work on that presentation that is stored at the corporate collaboration server, without having to download it. Your sales force can connect from a customer site, and your developers in a different country can have the latest realease ready and available in the corporate server. The bottom line is that with having VPN access to your network, you are building the foundation for a solid Teleworker solution; the applications that your employees will use (e.g. Telephone, Email, CRM Software) will run on top of it.
How can I get VPN access?... Several alternatives: for IPSEC VPNs, if you are into open source, there are free VPN applications such as FreeSWAN, but beware that they tend to be complex and with no support. You can use a third type of VPN called L2TP and that every Windows machine have, though it is fairly basic with limited functionality. If you are trully concerned about keeping the communication secure, gaining scalability for the future growth of your company, and tech support that you can rely on, you have to go for a commercial solution. In this arena, Cisco is the leader provider of VPN appliances and clients. Click here for information about it Cisco's VPN products.

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