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SmartPipes and WorldCom debut user-managed VPN

SmartPipes and WorldCom launched a new customer-managed IP VPN service that emphasizes customer control.

New York -- WorldCom has beefed up its IP networking strategy with a new customer-managed IP virtual private network (VPN) offering, launched Tuesday in association with application service provider SmartPipes.

It has named the product 'Customer Directed' to emphasize customers' control over the establishment of their VPNs. According to WorldCom, VPNs have not taken off to the extent the industry anticipated because they are too complicated to set up, which means major outsourcing and thus significant expense. With Customer Directed, WorldCom installs the network and customer equipment, and then the user sets up the policies via the SmartPipes interface. Using its Web interface, for example, business users can choose whether to divide up their VPN geographically, by department or both.

Operating from a datacenter in Dublin, Ohio, SmartPipes uses a combination of its own policy-based networking technology and Microsoft's Active Directory to store business information and translate it into instructions for routers. At present, SmartPipes only supports Cisco equipment and Windows 2000. According to Dennis Brouwer, senior vice president of marketing, the Policy Engine software translates the business requirements into tunnel, encryption and firewall settings and then downloads them to the customer's equipment.

WorldCom is SmartPipes' first reseller customer. The two have been working on the joint offering for the past 18 months, but the deal is obviously not an exclusive one, despite the two companies' close ties. Brouwer was previously at WorldCom's UUNet division.

It wouldn't surprise us to see SmartPipes also shortly form a partnership with XO Communications, an investor in the company. SmartPipes' CEO, Hank Nothhaft, formerly led Concentric Networks, which is now part of XO Communications, a company that specializes in VPNs. Other investors in SmartPipes include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Jim Clark and Tom Jermoluk, the former head of Excite@Home. SmartPipes has raised about $30m since 1999.

SmartPipes plans to sell its product direct as well as through channels. It claims a presence in 28 countries, although it currently has sales offices only in the US. Brouwer emphasizes that it does not compete with CoreExpress, an outsourced VPN management company with which it is often compared. He says that CoreExpress handles quality of service across multiple networks, while SmartPipes handles policy management for specific VPNs. In fact, he claims that the two are complementary.

WorldCom also offers an IP-based VPN service called Select Access. Select Access is customer-managed, but it requires more skilled technicians than does Customer Directed. Select Access is based on Cisco CPE, a remote access service that uses Nortel's kit, and a fully managed service called Total Access, which uses Lucent equipment.

The VPN offering is one of the three planks of WorldCom's IP networking strategy. The other two are Web hosting and what it calls 'Web centers,' by which it means call centers.

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