Network Evolution

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Cloud and managed VPN services offer respite from the storm

Network admins can handle random surges in VPN use, but the constant demands of a mobile workforce are a challenge. Managed VPN services can help.

As we send this issue of Network Evolution to press, a foot of snow blankets the Boston metro area as well as most of the country. Schools are closed. Flights are grounded. Words not fit for print in a family newspaper are exchanged over parking spots (this is Boston, after all). And like many information workers who wake up to such events, most of TechTarget's local employees work from home.

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati

I connect to the virtual private network (VPN) without a hitch. One of my colleagues is not so lucky. I suspect she is not alone. It occurs to me that someone in our IT department is probably not having a good day.

It's a familiar situation for many network administrators: Some event forces an atypical number of employees to work from home and cram onto the VPN, leading to congestion complaints and licensing headaches. But there are new VPN challenges brewing that more networking professionals will soon face -- if they aren't already -- and there are two trends to blame.

Smartphones and tablets have become viable platforms for business applications, and public Wi-Fi networks have become so pervasive that users expect to (and are often expected to) be able to work from anywhere. Working remotely is also no longer a perk only for upper management. Rank-and-file employees expect to be able to access core business apps and shared files on their personal iPads or Nexus tablets from wherever there's an available Internet connection. And, oh yeah, they have no idea if their device's firmware is up to date or whether it uses two-factor authentication.

Not all networking teams are equipped to handle the VPN management challenges in these scenarios, which is why in this issue of Network Evolution we highlight alternatives to managing your VPN in-house. John Burke, CIO and principal analyst at Nemertes Research, looks at how enterprises can outsource VPN management to a managed service provider or cloud provider. 

We also look at broader issues facing networking professionals today, including how emerging technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization are changing the role of the network engineer. Spoiler alert: You can safely un-enroll from those C++ and Java courses you frantically signed up for.  

In this issue, we also take a look at how SDN is influencing or being influenced by other emerging technologies. Freelance technology writer Alan R. Earls examines how OpenStack's networking service, Neutron, aims to enable engineers to orchestrate network resources as easily as virtual machines in the cloud. In our "The Voice of Evolution" column this month, resident networking geek and blogger Keith Townsend takes a look at how SDN may help enable completely portable, entirely virtualized data centers in the cloud.

Are you thinking of outsourcing your VPN? How has your job description changed alongside advances in networking? Is SDN on your project list? Email me your thoughts at

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This was last published in March 2014

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