Service provider Netifice Communications is expanding its network to offer users a simpler way to securely manage remote office connectivity.
The company says it will announce this week a deal with New Edge Networks that expands Netifice's DSL reach to 100 additional cities served by New Edge and beefs up its broadband coverage in 270 more.
Netifice offers fully managed VPN services using its national IP backbone and partnerships with about 20 DSL and cable modem providers and, soon, one satellite service provider.
"While coverage is king, we're focused on offering users the best choice to meet their VPN needs," says Gregory Davis, vice president of marketing at Netifice. For example, through its partnerships in Washington, DC, Netifice has 15 DSL providers to choose from when setting up VPNs.
Netifice is expected to announce a partnership with Hughes Network Systems that will let customers also use Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite connectivity at all or some of their sites. Hughes VSAT services are available nationwide, even in the most rural remote sites that are often impossible to service with DSL or cable.
All Netifice partners standardise on Cisco Systems, Efficient Networks, or Netopia customer premise equipment that has been tested and certified to perform well with Netifice's backbone. This gear also supports IP Security tunnels for secure network connectivity.
Standardising on specific vendors' gear makes it easier for Netifice to get a full, end-to-end view of each customer's VPN using its SmartWorx monitoring software and to offer standard service-level agreements (SLA), the company says.
Netifice's claim to fame is its ability to offer users a single VPN that's fully managed and monitored as if it were one network, even though 10 or more service providers might provide local service. And the company offers SLAs that cover its last-mile partner networks. The standard SLA guarantees 99.9 % network availability, round-trip network latency that does not exceed 160 millisec and packet delivery that does not fall below 99.7 %.
Network reliability was one of the reasons Chevys , the company owns Chevys Tex Mex restaurants, selected Netifice for its VPN needs. The majority of the company's 120 restaurants are connected to the corporate VPN via symmetrical DSL with a few frame relay sites, where DSL wasn't feasible, says Charlotte Krause, vice president of IS at Chevys.
"We chose Netifice because they understand a distributed environment where there is not technical support at the remote sties," she says.
Once the company completed its nationwide DSL VPN upgrade last year, it was able to deploy new point-of-sale, inventory and Web ordering applications, which have helped offset some of the costs of moving to broadband from a dial-up network, she says.
"These applications would have been so slow on dial-up they would have been ineffective," Krause says. Chevys says it likes the idea of working with a provider that had relationships with several broadband service providers and specialises in remote office support, although other well-known players offer similar services. AT&T Corp/, MCI and Sprint offer fully managed VPN services that also include DSL, cable modem or satellite service. But these services typically are not visible using a single management tool, nor do users receive a single invoice as they do with Netifice, says David Passmore, research director at Burton Group.
"Netifice peers with local service providers and (cable operators) at Layer 2. The beauty of this is that it allows them to take responsibility for their customer's network from end to end," Passmore says. "Normally ... users are at the mercy of their local broadband provider."
The service provider's SmartWorx software is a network monitoring tool where users can get real-time information on network performance and where users submit trouble tickets and view their invoices.
Keeping remote-office users connected to company headquarters is what Netifice is hanging its hat on, but most of the service provider's customers aren't using this service. About 90 % of Netifice's 2,000 customers are dedicated Internet access users the service provider acquired in October when it picked up ISP Epoch Internet. Netifice continues to support these users and also sells dedicated Internet access services, but the company is focusing its sales efforts on the VPN market. Netifice has some big-name customers including Merrill Lynch & Co, Marriott International and Pfizer, for whom it manages a 10,000-site VPN.