VPN Promises Fall Short, But Costs Mount
By Stephen M. Lawton
Did you ever have one of those millennia
where nothing seemed to fall into place? Just when you thought you knew
where you were headed, your paradigm shifted and you were left without
That's happened to a lot of companies.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) that held so much promise just a few years
ago — before they were real — have failed to live up to their potential.
"It'll be so easy," the VPN vendors
promised. "You'll be able to get your entire supply chain connected
— everyone will love it — and you," they said. "It'll be worth
the wait," they implored.
A lot of companies bought into those pleas
and spent huge amounts of money on VPNs. What they found out was that
once they put their infrastructure in place, their troubles had just begun
— now they had to convince their customers to use their VPN.
Suddenly, there was not just one,
but several business partners going after the same customer asking that
company to support different VPNs. Some of the big boys even told some
of their small suppliers that if they wanted to keep the their business,
they had to support that manufacturer's proprietary VPN.
Ouch. If I run a small business, that means
that either I invest a lot of money to invest in the Big Boy's VPN who
might cut me off if they can get my goods cheaper elsewhere, or I simply
walk away from business. Can you say: "Between a rock and a hard
Now that VPNs are indeed becoming real,
are they producing the gains that the networking vendors promised? Apparently
not, according to Martha Young, our resident networking analyst. In her
Network Management column this month, she notes that the cost and complexity
of VPNs can be prohibitive for the small to midsize business, and even
large corporations could have challenges getting their trading partners
to buy in to a system that will require considerable expenses and a daunting
Sure, if you're Proctor and Gamble you
might convince some key trading partners to join your VPN, but what if
your company earns less than $10 million in revenues annually? Do you
really think you'll have the clout to make your customers and suppliers
buy in to your VPN? What if your revenues are $100 million?
The fact is, VPNs can be great for some
applications, such as allowing your remote users to have full access to
the corporate network or providing limited access to your largest and
most strategic partners. For remote users, a VPN is more secure than linking
them to your server over the Internet with just a simple password and
If you're an aficionado of VPNs, take heart.
You're not alone if you expected this to be a panacea. Perhaps one day
you'll actually be able to use that VPN to realize your ambitious plans.
But when you do, expect Web-based technology to fix the problems
VPNs simply cannot resolve. While the benefits of VPNs today are debatable,
a Web-based approach likely will be far more cost-effective with more