The world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Instead of simply dealing with local or regional concerns, many businesses now have to think about global markets and logistics. Many companies have facilities spread out across the country or around the world, and there is one thing that all of them need: A way to maintain fast, secure and reliable communications wherever their offices are.
Until fairly recently, this has meant the use of leased lines to maintain a wide area network (WAN). Leased lines, ranging from ISDN (integrated services digital network, 128 Kbps) to OC3 (Optical Carrier-3, 155 Mbps) fiber, provided a company with a way to expand its private network beyond its immediate geographic area. A WAN had obvious advantages over a public network like the Internet when it came to reliability, performance and security. But maintaining a WAN, particularly when using leased lines, can become quite expensive and often rises in cost as the distance between the offices increases.
As the popularity of the Internet grew, businesses turned to it as a means of extending their own networks. First came intranets, which are password-protected sites designed for use only by company employees. Now, many companies are creating their own VPN (virtual private network) to accommodate the needs of remote employees and distant offices.
A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization's network. A virtual private network can be contrasted with an expensive system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one organization. The goal of a VPN is to provide the organization with the same capabilities, but at a much lower cost.
Internet Protocol Virtual Private Networks (IP VPN) have become the cornerstone of a new age in global network communications that support multiple data, voice and video applications on a single network.
An IP VPN is a partitioned private network constructed over a shared IP-based backbone that utilizes technologies to ensure privacy of data. In effect, the protocols, by encrypting data at the sending end and decrypting it at the receiving end, send the data through a "tunnel" that cannot be "entered" by data that is not properly encrypted. An additional level of security involves encrypting not only the data, but also the originating and receiving network addresses.
Advantages & Disadvantages
A VPN is a inexpensive effective way of building a private network. The use of the Internet as the main communications channel between sites is a cost effective alternative to expensive leased private lines. The costs to a corporation include the network authentication hardware and software used to authenticate users and any additional mechanisms such as authentication tokens or other secure devices. The relative ease, speed, and flexibility of VPN provisioning in comparison to leased lines makes VPNs an ideal choice for corporations who require flexibility. For example, a company can adjust the number of sites in the VPN according to changing requirements.
There are several potential disadvantages with VPN use. The lack of Quality of Service (QoS) management over the Internet can cause packet loss and other performance issues. Adverse network conditions that occur outside of the private network is beyond the control of the VPN administrator. For this reason, many large corporations pay for the use of trusted VPNs that use a private network to guarantee QoS. Vendor interoperability is another potential disadvantage as VPN technologies from one vendor may not be compatible with VPN technologies from another vendor. Neither of these disadvantages have prevented the widespread acceptance and deployment of VPN technology.