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Virtual networks for providers

Cisco will wrap virtual private network technology into the "brains" for the firm's network routing and switching devices.

Cisco Systems will wrap technology for creating secure tunnels for information delivery across internal corporate network links or through the Net into its Inter-networking Operating System (IOS), the "brains" for the company's wide range of network routing and switching devices.

The often hyped technology, commonly referred to as virtual private networks (VPN), uses a series of protocols to set a secure connection between a central site and a remote office on a shared service provider network or between two sites over the Net, for example.

This is accomplished in Cisco's case via support for two protocols: IPSec, which has been available since April, and the layer 2 tunneling protocol, or L2TP, which has now been added to IOS, according to the company.

Using IOS along with Cisco's policy-based network management software package, users can extend the same policies for their central network across a VPN link to allow third parties to access internal information securely in a set-up sometimes called an "extranet."

The technology allows service providers to offer a variety of value-added services that they can then use to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace, according to the company.

Given the large installed base of Cisco equipment and accompanying IOS software, the move to add VPN functionality could give the nascent market a boost, according to analysts.

"Availability of VPN features as part of a Cisco infrastructure may induce users to implement these features more aggressively than they would have if the implementation required adding products from other vendors, particularly add-on specialty products," stated a report released by Larry Dietz, a principal analyst with market watcher Current Analysis.

"To get their share of the market, other vendors will have to position their products as not only better, but as extremely to install and support," the report added.

Use of VPNs also holds the promise of reducing charges related to leased lines or long-distance rates, though the technology is far from wide adoption so far, according to several technology research firms.

Separately, Cisco rival 3Com announced a series of new support programs, available immediately, intended to make it easier for corporate customers and network service providers to deploy VPN services across their networks. New offerings include VPN project management, design and configuration, installation, and implementation, among other support services.