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Remote access for small companies

Aventail among first to introduce a type of secure remote networking product for small and midsize businesses.

Sometimes smaller is better.

That's what Aventail says. On Monday, the company will announce the EX-750, a less-expensive version of its SSL VPN--or Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network--product, which provides secure remote access through a Web browser. The EX-750 has all the same features as the company's larger EX1500, but it supports fewer users and is priced much lower than its flagship product, the company said.

Aventail is one of the first companies in the SSL VPN market to address small and midsize businesses. Vendors, including Aventail, Check Point Software Technologies, Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Nokia and Nortel Networks, have until now focused on large companies.

The small-business market could be a perfect fit for SSL VPN technology, which is often thought of as much easier to deploy and manage than other technologies, such as IPSec. SSL VPNs also let users connect to the corporate network from any computer, allowing workers from small companies, who don't have company-issued laptops, to work from home computers.

"The thing with IPSec is that it doesn't work very well," said Raj Saxena, IT director of Aryx Therapeutics, a small pharmaceutical company, which has been using Aventail's SSL VPN products since last year. "In the end, if your people can't connect while they're on the road, it costs the business money."

Saxena, who is one of two people on the IT staff of this 40-person company, said he doesn't have time to deal with headaches associated with IPsec. From the beginning, he wanted to use SSL technology for remote access, he said, but when he started looking for a solution last year, he was discouraged by the prices.

"Price is one of the biggest determining factors for a company our size," he said. "I had to talk Aventail down quite a bit from their initial price."

Aventail's EX1500, which supports up to 1,000 concurrent users, sells for between $9,500 at the low end to $53,000 at the high end. Saxena said the configuration his company had originally considered would have cost it $30,000.

The new EX750 is priced much more moderately. The box, which supports up to 50 concurrent users, ranges in price from about $7,000 to about $10,000, prices Saxena said are much more in line with what small companies can afford. Saxena plans to deploy a new EX750 in one of his company's branch offices.

Although Aventail expects to continue generating the bulk of its revenue from large customers, the small- and midsize-business market is an important one to address, said Sarah Daniels, vice president of product management and marketing at Aventail.

"Our distribution partners don't handle only the largest customers," she said. "They have told us that their smaller clients are asking for SSL VPNs, and so it's important for us to address this need."

Small and midsize companies account for roughly 5.9 million of all businesses in the United States, or 99 percent of the total business market, according to The Yankee Group. Even large equipment suppliers, such as Cisco, are starting to pay more attention to smaller companies. Cisco has developed several switches and routers specifically for this segment.

"I don't think the small- and (midsize)-business market will be critical for SSL VPN vendors anytime soon," said Jeff Wilson, an analyst at Infonetics. "But it certainly makes sense to move in this direction."