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SSL VPN use fueled by security needs

A poll of 250 small, midsized and large companies conducted by Infonetics Research found that security is still the biggest driver for deploying SSL VPNs.

Use of SSL VPNs among companies of all sizes continues to spike, mainly because organizations see it as a security boost, according to a recent study by Infonetics Research.

The study, "User Plans for VPN Products and Services, North American Vertical Markets 2006," was based on interviews with network managers at 250 small, midsized and large companies from finance, healthcare, retail, education and government.

Of the companies polled, 80% said increased security is driving their use of SSL VPNs.

"SSL allows companies to limit user access to a few specific applications or data sources, and does so at the application layer, which is an improvement in security over IPsec," Infonetics principal analyst Jeff Wilson said in a statement.

IPsec VPNs, which have dominated in the past, work at Layer 3 to create a tunnel into the network so devices act as if they are physically attached to the LAN when users log on. SSL VPNs, on the other hand, work at Layer 4, the application layer. SSL VPNs let users access applications via a Web browser, and administrators can control access by application, rather than provide access to the entire network.

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"SSL also decreases network downtime because it can be set up quickly and easily as a disaster recovery solution when other forms of access fail," Wilson continued. "SSL products that can act as a full replacement for IPsec remote access are available now, and mainstream IT departments now realize they can use SSL for any scenario that currently uses IPsec."

Security was the largest driver to SSL VPNs, but respondents also said several other factors are fueling their use. Asked to rate which is "definitely a driver" for SSL VPN use, 51% selected decreasing downtime, 46% selected enabling clientless VPNs, 41% selected increasing network capacity or performance, and 41% selected decreasing operating costs.

Other drivers included collaboration with remote users, 41%; extending the life of the network, 38%; enabling a new application, 30%; enabling employee access for handheld devices, 29%; enabling employee access from kiosks and guest computers, 23%; and adding extranets, 20%.

Along with looking into SSL VPN adoption drivers, the study also examined six of the leading VPN makers – Check Point, Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Nortel Networks, SonicWALL and WatchGuard. End users rated the vendors based on current technology, product roadmap, security, management features, price-to-performance ratio, pricing, financial stability, and service and support.

Cisco received the highest marks from users in every category but pricing on the Infonetics Vendor Scorecard. Check Point rated second highest for security. SonicWALL rated highest for pricing and second highest for price-to-performance ratio.

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