By Dean Young, T-Systems in South Africa
Internet Protocol (IP) technology has revolutionised the communications landscape, enabling a variety of different applications to run off a single network, opening up unprecedented integration opportunities for business. Increased availability, a variety of access technologies and affordability of bandwidth in the local market has meant that these applications, previously inaccessible, have now become a reality for local enterprise. Voice, video and data over an IP network has become known as triple-play, but IP has evolved even further. From voice and data to multimedia and even business applications, practically any facet of business can be run off an IP network, in what has become known as x-play technology. This technology is available in South Africa and offers many benefits, but in order to leverage the full advantages of x-play, it is vital to have a secure, powerful, flexible and cost-effective network in place. An IP Virtual Private Network (VPN) delivers the right combination of security, scalability and opportunity for modular expansion, ideal for the provisioning of a variety of IP-based applications.
Using the right IP-VPN solution, organisations of all sizes, both local and multinational, can integrate various sites as well as home offices, remote workers and even extranets, with flexible and scalable bandwidths, opportunities for modular expansion and high security standards. This paves the way for a transition from traditional to IP-based telephony and opens up possibilities for other IP-based applications, including multi-media, back-end and front-end business applications, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and more.
IP-VPN offers anytime, anywhere connectivity, ideal for organisations with multiple sites, a remote workforce or complex communication needs. Security is built-in through secure gateways from the VPN to the Internet and vice versa. However, since the needs of all organisations are unique in terms of security taking mobility, video, VoIP and other applications into consideration, an effective IP-VPN solution needs to be fully modular and customisable. This allows organisations to pick and choose the aspects that apply to their business and will deliver the greatest value.
A fixed connection delivers a direct connection between company sites, regardless of their geographical location. This should be a completely scalable solution that can be customised to meet the exact individual needs of an organisation. It should support multiple access technologies in order to ensure cost effectiveness, including standard DSL and premium DSL with Quality of Service (QoS), links, leased links and data centre access, as well as Ethernet with optional Classes of Service (CoS).
Best practices within IP-VPN include data prioritisation with QoS in various CoS so that network traffic can be prioritised and transmission quality determined in accordance with application importance and sensitivity. Real-time applications are given priority to ensure quality, but when these are not in use other applications will be given more bandwidth temporarily. This ensures optimal bandwidth usage at all times. Multi-VPNs can be created using a VPN access point, to enable secure and reliable communications between subsidiaries, partners, offices and so on. DSL traffic offloading is also important for redundancy and business continuity. In the event of a network malfunction traffic can be diverted to a secure, high availability Internet connection. When the network is functioning normally, this secondary connection can be used for low-priority traffic, increasing the cost effectiveness of DSL traffic offloading.
Remote connection is a cost-effective, scalable solution that allows enterprises to integrate mobile users, home offices and small branch offices into their networks. This delivers secure, anytime access to a corporate network regardless of location, device or infrastructure with a variety of access options and secure dial-up. Using remote connection, organisations can allow for flexible working arrangements by enabling workers to connect to corporate networks from outside. Networks can be accessed with a user ID via an IP router, or via secure Internet connection. Data transfer is encrypted for security purposes using IPSec or SSL. One-time passwords can also be added for additional security. Remote connection also offers a cost-effective way of incorporating small branch offices into the network.
Fixed and remote connections form the basis of a VPN solution. By adding on an extranet solution, companies can also connect with suppliers, distributors and partners beyond enterprise boundaries via a secure network, taking collaboration and communication to the next level. Using a shared extranet platform for the exchange of data allows organisations to extend their enterprise network and harness to power of real-time communication with suppliers and partners.
IP-VPN offers a host of benefits, including improved business productivity as a result of more efficient network usage, high availability and traffic prioritisation. It is also highly flexible, allowing corporate networks to be easily modified to accommodate changes to company structure, and connections are scalable in terms of CoS, QoS, redundancy, backup and multi-VPN.
Harnessing the power of IP-VPN, organisations can gear themselves for growth, with a highly scalable solution that ensures bandwidth is available for the applications that need it, when it is needed. This enables enterprises to leverage the advantages of IP technologies, from VoIP to multimedia, business applications and any other x-play technologies that appear in future.