Xtra will launch its own virtual private network offerings in April, capping off a development effort which began last September — and annointing 1998 as the year of the VPN.
Xtra has worked on the VPN at Auckland University, which allows staff and students to dial in to the university’s network at a special rate, as a “prototype”, according to Xtra’s communications business manager Peter Hutterli.
The university project went live in September and Xtra’s VPN product is now being refined in a business setting with a major trial with Lion Nathan. By April, the Telecom ISP will be able to offer dial-in IP networks with anything from two to 5000 nodes, says Hutterli.
The VPN product will be closely aligned with Xtra’s existing branding. It will rest on the Ascend-based IP infrastructure built up by Xtra and absorbed this year into IPNet, Telecom’s new national dial-in IP network. Current Xtra customers will dial the same access number will need only a new user ID to take up VPN services.
Although all new ports on IPNet — those offered to other ISPs — are based on 3Com/US Robotics hardware, Hutterli says Xtra expects to stay with its Ascend environment for some time. All the Ascend boxes have been upgraded to the K56 Flex protocol and will be converted to the new v.90 56Kbit/s standard “in a few months, when v.90 is properly defined”.
Hutterli says a decision has yet to be made on pricing for VPN services, but it will be on a hourly basis “and it will be less than the $2.50 an hour we currently charge for Internet access”. It will also, Hutterli acknowledges, be less than other Xtra groups are charging for conventional private network services.
The VPN launch will be preceded in March by the introduction of global roaming services, which will allow Xtra to make a competitive offering against the “Anzac” and “Anzus” VPNs offered by Voyager.
Although Graham Rowe, head of the Telecom Computer Communications group which developed IPNet, has cast doubt on the quality of service which can be guaranteed on IP-based VPNs, Hutterli expects the Xtra service to be “fast and reliable”.
The VPN product will be pitched initially at “any business with a large, mobile sales force”, says Hutterli, and will be developed by Xtra’s electronic commerce group to include extranets, business-
to-business EDI and a number of other e-commerce products.
Business will not be the only sector to benefit from Xtra’s new network offerings, says Hutterli.
“We’ll also be using the same technology for our gaming network. I know a lot of people use Ihug’s games servers because they’re cheaper, but we’ll be able to offer them what they want — which is high performance and low ping times. IPNet is based on 155Mbit/s ATM and when you combine that with our intelligent network the latency is very low.”
Hutterli agrees that differential tariffs based on service guarantees are likely.
Like Netlink, Xtra has been working with Microsoft’s PPTP (point-to-point tunnelling protocol), but Hutterli says Xtra’s tests suggest IP tunnelling does not appear to be as vital to secure e-commerce applications as is commonly believed.