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Ubiquitous business connectivity

Written by  Stephen Ho
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Stephen HoIssue:Asia-Pacific III 2007
Article no.:11
Topic:Ubiquitous business connectivity
Author:Stephen Ho
Title:CEO
Organisation:CPCNet
PDF size:268KB

About author

Stephen Ho is the CEO of CPCNet, part of the CITIC Pacific Communications group where he served as Executive Vice President. Prior to joining the CITIC Pacific Group, Mr Ho held senior positions at Cable and Wireless Systems Ltd, Hongkong Telecom CSL Ltd, Hong Kong Telecom Ltd and iAdvantage Ltd. Mr. Ho is a founder of two Internet Data Centres - iAdvantage and Sky Datamann. Mr Ho holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, with honours, specializing in digital communications from McGill University, Canada.

 

Article abstract

The globalised economy has globalised the enterprise. Large and medium companies often have remote branches to deal with their operations around the globe. The cost of networks to connect these branches would have been prohibitive not so long ago. Converged networks and IP have made it economical to provide private communications using worldwide public networks. The security of these networks, given the growth of increasingly sophisticated threats and the growth in the number of personal devices connected, remains a serious problem.

 

Full Article

Connectivity today is fragmented; there is near-ubiquitous connectivity with ‘always on’ communication technologies. Most of today’s larger enterprises are extended global, networked organizations the networks of which tie together employees, suppliers, partners and customers. Highly structured, vertically integrated applications such as converged voice, data and video service packages and mobile services are the newest applications to enjoy broad popularity as enhancers of global business productivity. Converged networks are the natural platforms for such communications because of the robustness, scalability and openness that enables them to support common applications with partners and customers. In this environment, converged networks face a variety of threats, with each converged service having its own unique vulnerabilities. The coming challenge is to provide a secure environment for ubiquitous business connectivity and access. The Internet and the enterprise The core of any 21st century enterprise is its information. The Internet provides an essential platform for the sharing of information between businesses, their customers, suppliers and employees and IP applications have become the biggest drivers of demand for new services. That’s a radical change from the start of the decade. Back then, corporate data services came in three flavours: ATM, asynchronous transfer mode, frame relay and dedicated leased lines. IP and IP-VPNs, IP virtual private networks, when deployed, often only offered best effort service. Today ATM, frame relay and private lease circuits have been swept away by IP technology itself and the much lower costs it makes possible. As the research firm IDC put it in a 2007 study, squeezing out cost savings from IT and communications “continues to be an obsession of many enterprises this year”. The ability to deploy IP-based virtual private networks has not been enough on its own to spark the mass conversion of corporate networks to IP. The triggering factor in the past seven years has been the emergence of standardized MPLS, Multi Protocol Label Switching. From a technical viewpoint, MPLS integrates layer 2 bandwidth, latency and utilization information about network links into the IP layer 3. This simplifies and improves IP-packet exchange. The result is that networks now enjoy a great deal of flexibility to divert and route traffic around link failures, congestion and bottlenecks. Moreover, MPLS VPN provides a fully meshed network with a high degree of flexibility and scalability. The traffic prioritization feature allows enterprises to selectively apply different priority levels to data running across the network infrastructure. Users can categorize traffic into different classes of service, CoS, with predefined quality of service, QoS. This guarantees smooth transmission of time-critical data, such as voice and video, as non-critical network traffic waits on the sidelines for a less busy session. Enterprises can thus configure their network with precision according to their needs and financial priorities. They can choose the quality of service required for a particular service or data stream and at an appropriate price point. Since MPLS IP-VPNs became available they have supported an expanding range of applications. MPLS offers four main benefits. For one, it is highly efficient, because MPLS labelling on switched traffic delivers high throughput and low latency. For another, it is simple - deploying fully meshed network connectivity using MPLS means automatic route selection. It is also reliable, with very high POP-to-POP, point of presence, availability via MPLS fast re-routing which protects against trunk failure. Finally, it is also very secure - the network segregation imposed by MPLS provides security equal to ATM or frame relay without encryption. Complexity and security IP itself is quite simple, its power and effectiveness are derived from its ability to integrate an organization’s information, applications and communications. In fact, the simplicity of the underlying network platform contrasts with the increasingly broad and complex applications it can support. The growth of consumer applications such as instant messaging, VoIP applications, social networking, Web 2.0 and other new services creates the risk of information leaks, and can, potentially, open new channels for malicious software. There is no silver bullet answer to resolve these security concerns, but the traditional IT organization approach of just blocking them is technically difficult and often unacceptable for a wide variety of reasons. Traditionally, MPLS technology ensures strong security at the network level for corporate private networks. Business enterprises establish virtual private networks, VPNs, protected with firewalls, to connect their geographically dispersed operations and provide confidential communications over public networks. Nevertheless, growing business globalization has exacerbated the security situation since the companies’ IP networks continue to be exposed to unfamiliar security threats and compliance mandates. In addition to the perimeter threats, the threats from outsiders, there is always a serious risk from unintentional, or even intentional, security breaches from within the organisation. Security experts believe that many of the most serious security threats can originate within the organisation; they call for effective training programmes and careful handling. Security challenges Security is a complex challenge for businesses. The increasing number of communications systems threats and vulnerabilities drives the rapid evolution of security technologies. The upshot is that the old perimeter-based defences such as firewalls have become somewhat redundant. New approaches recognise that today’s enterprise network is integrated with the public network and the networks of suppliers and customers. As the boundary between personal and enterprise computing becomes blurred, organizations need to treat all network access as potentially hostile and apply appropriate security technologies and policies. On the policy side, they need to apply new rules that allow enterprise IT assets and functions to coexist with their employees’ personal digital assets. These risks pose a threat, of course, not just to networks but also to the reputation, reliability and even survival of an organization. Enterprises expect total protection, encompassing multi-layer security solutions and managed services. As a result, many companies look for partners to ensure complete and effective security solutions - managed security services, MSS. MSS means a third party is contracted to monitor and isolate problems and to take whatever corrective action is needed to defend against potential security threats. With corporate employees increasingly using their own hardware at the office and on the road, an important part of this pro-active threat management involves ensuring that users and attached devices are properly authenticated, and to prevent access by unauthorized devices. MSS enables companies to augment their own security capabilities and expertise, essentially extending their IT staff. And for companies without the expertise, funds or staff to deal with complex security issues, MSS provides a possible solution to their need to protect themselves from internal and external threats. Globalization Global expansion has become an imperative for virtually all medium and large enterprises. In today’s business environment, robust and ubiquitous global connectivity is all-important, so IP networks have become the natural platform to support integrated voice, data and other enterprise applications around the globe. With the rise of the virtual global enterprise and the disappearance of traditional enterprise network boundaries, business enterprises need to take a fresh approach to the next-generation IP era. IP is now an important factor in the acceleration of economic globalization. With IP, the future has only just begun.

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