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Secure remote access heats up

A variety of players aiming at corporations and service providers roll out variations on the same theme.

A variety of players aiming to provide advanced remote access devices for corporations and service providers rolled out variations on the same theme this week: providing simple, secure access for mobile users.

What used to be a segment dominated by large boxes filled with modems has matured to the point that underlying services and security techniques are becoming more prevalent, signaling a new era of more advanced requirements for remote access companies.

At the core, it is VPN technology--which provides a remote user or office with a secure way to transmit data to and from a central corporate site--that may drive the emergence of more advanced devices. The technology could make more expensive leased lines largely a thing of the past, according to many pundits.

Among the aspirants in this market is 3Com, which launched a new series of switching devices focused on providing secure connections across the Net using virtual private networking, or VPN, technology. The new PathBuilder S500 line uses a technique called "tunnel switching" that allows a secure connection to be terminated at any point in its travels through a corporate network.

The new hardware and software, targeted at competitive offerings like the Contivity equipment from Nortel Networks (formerly Northern Telecom), can support up to 2,000 mobile user, remote-site-to-remote site, and "extranet"-style connections to partners within a single system, with prices starting at $18,000.

3Com executives continue to display confidence that security concerns surrounding VPN technology have been addressed. "This thing is very hot right now," said Frank Fuller, business line manager for remote networking solutions at 3Com. "The principle reason is you can lower your cost by so much."

Ascend Communications, in turn, has added VPN functions to its line of Pipeline routing devices as well as firewall software. The company will add support for the IPSec standard, one way for users to achieve a secure connection across the public Net, the company said.

Others have noted the emerging VPN trend. Start-up Assured Digital added a new remote access switch this week that is also targeted at providing secure links between remote users and headquarters across the Net. The new ADI-1500 device is targeted at small and medium-sized networks that require support for 50 remote access dial-up clients. It will be available later this quarter.

Separately, remote access player Shiva has developed a spread sheet tool so that managers can calculate their return-on-investment for their VPN and direct-dial equipment purchases. The new tool is available on the company's Web site.