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New products promise better protection and easier management of remote workers
As business managers spend more time on the road, the challenge of managing the growing number of remote workers accessing the corporate network becomes more difficult. Networking vendors are responding with a variety of products that promise to make it easier to manage employees working outside their offices and to ensure that data traveling to and from remote locations remains secure.
About 35% of U.S. workers spend at least 20% of their time away from their primary workspace, according to a survey last month by the Yankee Group. And those numbers are growing, especially at large companies. In 2002, about 23% of employees at large companies were mobile; this year, that figure jumped to about 33%. By 2005, more than 50 million workers will access corporate networks from remote locations, according to a study conducted by networking vendor Siemens AG.
One reason for the growth is that many businesses that can't reward employees with pay raises or big signing bonuses offer them the option of working from home, says Robin Gareiss, principal research officer with Nemertes Research.
There have been other significant changes. In the past, remote access was most often used to get E-mail. But today's mobile workforce is accessing sensitive databases, transferring confidential files, and often dealing with data that's regulated by federal law. So businesses are faced with a serious problem: how to provide users with the secure access they need and how to manage a complicated remote-access system with minimal resources.
To address the problem, some vendors offer hybrid hardware that combines various security functions with traditional routers and switches. The new XSR Series of routers from Enterasys Networks Inc., introduced last week, integrates IP routing, a firewall, and VPN technology in the same box. And Broadcom Corp.'s new Sentry 5 switch processors put VPN support and a routing system onto the same chip. That means the switches are less expensive and require less setup time, IDC analyst Sean Lavey says. "You don't have to worry about configuring another box."
Some vendors aim to ease the pain from the remote worker's side, too. New virtual-network software from iPass Inc. reworks the remote-access tool to provide a geography-centric interface; users indicate where they are in the world, and the software figures out the best available way to connect, whether it's dial-up, broadband, or wireless. It's easier to manage, as well, the company says. Support for new security policies lets managers make sure users have antivirus or firewall software running before they connect.
Other vendors are concentrating on communications protocols to protect remote connections. Nokia Corp. last week launched the Secure Access System, a network appliance that uses a Secure Sockets Layer VPN to connect users to enterprise data and doesn't require users to run client-side software. And MCI launched what it says is the industry's first network-based IP VPN service--users can connect to MCI with their legacy frame relay or ATM network and be assured of state-of-the-art security across the company's Internet backbone.
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