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Off-site intranets make good sense for many companies

Off-site intranets make good sense for many companies

Common sense seems to dictate that if your company's internal data centre is going to be accessible via an intranet, you should keep those servers within your own facility safe from prying eyes.

But the reality is that for many companies, it's vital to use the public Internet as an essential part of their intranet systems.

I've previously discussed virtual private networks (VPNs), which are systems that provide end-to-end encryption of data. This in turn lets you have company-confidential information swimming up the public Internet data stream without any chance of third parties seeing it. For all the VPN hype, however, many people are finding the reality isn't quite so perfect.

Collocation may be a better answer

IXL (www.ixl.com), one of the largest interactive agencies in the world, is headquartered in Atlanta with additional offices throughout the US, Spain and England.

IXL has a 25,000 square-foot data centre in the US, and the company has private T1 lines between major offices, but feels that connectivity is key to its intranet. The result?

The company collocated its intranet servers in a US-based facility run by AboveNet Communications (www.above.net).

Why collocate?

Benjamin Chen, chief information officer at IXL, explained that AboveNet is viewed as an extension of IXL's existing network, offering high accessibility to everyone.

Because AboveNet only provides network bandwidth, IXL is free to configure and manage its own systems and network access. This lets the company ensure its own security and data integrity. Indeed, IXL has its own firewalls in place at the AboveNet facility, and the company proactively monitors both the performance of individual servers and the overall network throughput.

If IXL was in a single office, locating the intranet in-house would have been sufficient. But when people on the road are combined with offices throughout the United States, the centralised facility is a clear winner.

This solution's benefits became doubly clear when IXL expanded its server installation at AboveNet to encompass not only the intranet and Internet portions of its business, but also its extranet - the portion of the company's Web site that IXL's business partners can access.

Chen states it bluntly: "The intranet is the most critical part of our company, and it's proven very cost-effective to use the AboveNet facility."

AboveNet hosts more than 400 companies. It provides a fault-tolerant, high-availability network with more than 2Gbps of bandwidth capacity. AboveNet is connected to all the major network access points in the United States. It offers two types of collocation services: simply providing space for customers' computers on secured racks, relying on the security of the overall facility; and secured cages for customers' equipment, which gives companies such as IXL the ability to tightly control who can access their hardware on the site.

Managing security

Security is a particular concern for company-sensitive information on an intranet server located in a remote facility. At AboveNet, individual companies manage their own security from the Ethernet layer and above.

"We manage both the physical and link layer security. For example, no sniffer is allowed within the facility. The network layer and above is the customers' responsibility," said Sherman Tuan, AboveNet CEO.

To me, this represents the best sort of collo-cation arrangement: IXL is free from worrying about network connectivity and availability, and AboveNet can focus on its core strength, too: building a fault-tolerant facility with highly-redundant, congestion-free connectivity.


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