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SanDisk finds secure U.S.-Asia connection in VPN service

SanDisk, a maker of flash memory, is one of three companies honored for ingenuity at the recent Networking Decisions conference.

At TechTarget's recent Networking Decisions conference, SanDisk Corp. was honored with a Network Infrastructure Leadership Award for its use of an innovative load-balancing product that the company says saves it millions of dollars a year.

SanDisk honored at conference
TechTarget VP Paul Gillin, left, presents the Network Infrastructure Leadership Award to SanDisk's Timothy Nguyen and Seung Ha, right.

SanDisk, the Sunnyvale, Calif., manufacturer of flash memory, has production facilities in Asia and needs a continuous, secure communication link between its U.S. headquarters and its manufacturing and shipping operations in Asia. It sends sensitive product information back and forth and needs to ensure that information is not compromised or delayed.

But finding a reliable ISP in China was next to impossible, said Tim Nguyen, SanDisk's network engineering manager. The company set up a frame relay connection to guarantee that its primary means of communication was secure. But when it came to finding a reliable and cost-effective backup service, Nguyen ran into problems.

Another frame connection was too expensive, as was a dial-back service that would have cost between $20,000 and $30,000 a month.

But the regular failures of the local ISP services were becoming too costly to bear. On average, it took four hours to shift SanDisk's virtual private network (VPN) from one connection to another. Sometimes it took as long as two days to resolve the problem. Nguyen estimated that such losses of communication cost the company as much as $2 million a day in delayed manufacturing and shipping.

My goal is to never make IT a bottleneck.
Tim Nguyen
Network engineering managerSanDisk Corp.
And that was a big problem for the IT department. "My goal is to never make IT a bottleneck," said Nguyen. In his scramble to fix the problem, Nguyen came across a service offered FatPipe Networks, a Salt Lake City-based maker of wide area communications products.

FatPipe's multi-path virtual private network (MPVPN) is geared toward helping companies with exactly this sort of problem. Michael Lambert, a network engineer with FatPipe, said that inconsistent Internet performance remains a problem for many companies. And while backup connections help ensure a certain level of redundancy, simply having the backup connections does not mean that a company can switch over from a downed connection to a live one quickly and securely.

FatPipe's MPVPN balances the traffic between all of a company's available Internet connections, allowing the user to take advantage of the multiple Internet links they are already paying for.

It also divides up packets through the multiple links. If a company has three Internet links, data will be sent over all three networks. William Terrill, an analyst with the Midvale, Utah, research firm the Burton Group, said this creates an added layer of security. With packets moving across three separate connections, even if someone intercepts the packets, it is unlikely they will intercept all three data streams.

The biggest benefit to the MPVPN is its ability to create multiple VPNs that can interact, Lambert said. If you have three ISPs, data can move securely through the VPN from any one or more of those connections on the transmission side to any one or more of them on the reception side.

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If one link goes down, the MPVPN will shift the traffic to the remaining links. There is no need to reconfigure the VPN. The shift is automatic.

Since installing the system, Nguyen said that SanDisk has experienced numerous ISP failures, and yet everything has gone smoothly.

"Before, we always had to worry about a failure, but now we don't have to worry about traffic moving back and forth," he said. "We just don't have to worry about it any more."

Terrill said FatPipe's product is well suited to a situation like SanDisk's. It provides secure connectivity over multiple Internet connections. However, he said that users must make sure that when the buy services from ISPs, they're getting services that are truly diverse. "If your two ISPs tie into the same fiber cable and that is torn up by an anchor, it won't do you any good," he said.

The only drawback to the product, he said, is the throughput, which is limited to 155M bits/sec. That may make it too slow for some very large enterprises, where many employees may be using the network resources at the same time, Terrill said.

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