• United States
Executive Editor

The hidden cost of VPNs

Aug 10, 20042 mins

* VPN maintenance adds up

Some users are finding that despite the cost savings of VPNs, they aren’t saving money overall when they use them to replace more traditional networks. This is especially true of build-your-own VPNs that businesses monitor, manage and maintain themselves.

Fellow readers who have written in say they agree that using the Internet to carry wide-area traffic can save money over dedicated circuits or frame relay services, and that performance meets the requirements for speed and reliability.

But the savings go out the window in some cases because of the time it takes to care for the boxes, setting them up, configuring them, making changes as necessary and troubleshooting. In the case of remote-access VPNs, the problem is worse because there are so many more remote users – in most cases non-technical – and the potential for help desk calls grows.

Users say the technology may in fact be working well, but the understanding of it by end users makes them think something is wrong when it’s not. For example, one user says that the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) remote access gear his company uses confuses end users because they don’t understand that the browser that is used to start sessions must remain running or the session gets cut off.

The SSL gear authenticates the remote user and then lets them access particular applications through it. The novice end user may think it is OK to shut down the browser and continue working with their running applications. When the browser shutdown triggers an application shutdown, the help desk calls begin.

One managed-service vendor who runs customer premises equipment-based VPNs for businesses says help desk calls cut into its profits because whenever an end user faces a problem, they make a call. This ties up the provider’s technical staff. “They pay very little compared to the amount of work we perform for them,” the vendor says.

In this light, the do-it-yourselfers might want to consider a managed service that has a flat fee rather than spending an uncertain and varying amount running their VPN in-house. At the very least, they should carefully gauge just how much strain managing and supporting the VPN will put on their IT staff.