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Rolling out remote access

Cisco and Check Point earn top scores for enterprise readiness.

By Joel Snyder, Network World Global Test Alliance, Network World
October 28, 2002 12:03 AM ET

Network World - We invited leading IPSec-based VPN vendors to provide their best products for serving up enterprise-class remote access to thousands of users. We tested 10 products from ActiveLane, Avaya, Check Point Software running on Nokia's hardware, CiscoCylink, Imperito Networks, NetScreen Technologies, Secure Computing, SonicWall and Symantec. (For declining vendors, see story.)

In our evaluation, we considered deployment and support burden, management overhead, suitability for enterprise networks, flexibility, reporting capabilities and client support (see How we did it). Rather than focus on a particular model of VPN server, we encouraged VPN vendors to show us an entire set of products that address remote access VPNs, including concentrators, management applications, and hardware and software clients (see NetResults for full product listing).

Cisco and Check Point came in way ahead of the pack in our tests. While Cisco barely edged out Check Point in the overall score, we handed both products a World Class award because both companies have clearly considered the issues of enterprise remote access and built products that are easy to use, deploy and update, but are not arbitrarily limiting in terms of policy, platform or features.

Honorable mention, though, goes to NetScreen and Avaya. While neither product set offers all the features and flexibility of the winners, they've assembled systems that generally do a good job attacking the problem of large-scale remote access and offer specific product details that also might sway a decision in their favor. Avaya's specialized support for voice-over-IP (VoIP) applications is better than any other, while NetScreen's broad range of hardware lets you precisely fit resources to requirements.

Deployment

VPN clients have two pieces: the client software and the abstract policy that defines how communications are encrypted. Deployment means getting the software and policy information to end users and keeping both updated as the network configuration and topology changes.

Client software installation was generally easy across products. The notable exception is ActiveLane, which is designed to work with built-in Windows VPN clients -both PPTP and IP Security (IPSec)/Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). Not having to do anything at all because the software is already there makes for a pretty easy installation.

On the policy side, some vendors, such as Secure Computing and Cylink, keep a policy file (often called a policy blob) sitting on each client. This is problematic because if you change your network configuration or the IPSec tunnel, you'll need to push the policy blob out to each client. In an enterprise environment where not everyone has the same VPN policy, the problem is exacerbated because you must ensure each client has the appropriate blob.

A better enterprise solution is to use a policy server that works with the client to keep the policy up to date. The client connection will take a little longer, as policy versions are checked, but, in return, end users never have to wonder if they've got the right version of the policy.

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