SmartPipes is now offering its services directly to businesses, providing them an easier way to manage Cisco-based VPNs.REDWOOD CITY, CALIF. -\u00a0SmartPipes\u00a0is now offering its services directly to businesses, providing them an easier way to manage Cisco-based\u00a0VPNs.With the service, customers register their VPN sites to directories within SmartPipes' network and can access SmartPipes IP PolicyPro software to provision changes to their VPN via secure Web connections. The software uses graphical user interfaces as opposed to more complicated command-line interfaces (CLI), and it also automates some management functions.Until now, SmartPipes only sold to service providers that in turn sold SmartPipes-based VPN management services to business customers.But with businesses becoming leery about whether service providers will survive, they are looking for ways to control their own networks directly, says Michael Suby, a senior research analyst with Stratecast.Icon Clinical Research, a pharmaceutical research firm with U.S. headquarters in North Wales, Pa., is using SmartPipes service to manage its new VPN that replaces a frame relay network. The company buys simple Internet access for each of 10 sites on its VPN, then manages the gear via SmartPipes, says Peter Ghosh, Icon's IT operations network manager.The company pays less for the Internet connections than it paid for frame relay, and it can fully mesh the VPN without paying per-virtual-circuit fees that come with frame relay, he says. It pays SmartPipes $60 per month, per site, he says.SmartPipes software automatically updates the configuration of all the routers in the network as needed, a complex and time-consuming chore without the platform, Ghosh says. "We're doing a fully meshed network so every time we have to add a site, we need to update each device," he says. IP PolicyPro eliminates the need for highly trained technicians to write VPN polices using CLI and distributing them machine by machine, the company says.Icon considered buying Cisco's VMS 2.0 VPN management platform, but it was too expensive and represented yet another network device to take care of, Ghosh says.The drawback is that the software only supports Cisco gear, Suby says, although SmartPipes says it will support another VPN vendor's gear next year. The company would not say which vendor.Also next year, SmartPipes plans to license its software directly to businesses. So rather than register to directories in SmartPipes network, customers would set up their own management infrastructure based on their own directories and on software licensed from SmartPipes.Previously, the only way to for businesses to use SmartPipes' software was via services sold by WorldCom, XO Communications and another provider that the company won't name. Customers would buy a managed VPN service from one of these providers, and they would give them the ability to tap SmartPipes' network.The software automatically distributes policies to defined groups of VPN gateways.The company plans to sell the software via value-added resellers who deal directly with businesses but also by selling directly to businesses using SmartPipes' own salesforce.This software is unsuitable for small- and midsize-business networks because they don't have the numbers of devices to control where the trade-off between the ease of configuration and the price of the software would be a good trade-off, SmartPipes says.Pricing has not been set, but will vary depending on the number of devices being managed, whether the software is licensed or accessed as a service and whether the customer buys a maintenance agreement.