Network hardware duel brewing over VPNs

Major networking vendors are taking the virtual private network (VPN) market by storm, causing a showdown with smaller specialised organisations.

Cisco Systems last week introduced a small-office router that can link branch offices securely to a central facility over shared public or private networks.

The announcement followed on the heels of other big-name VPN rollouts at NetWorld+Interop by Nortel Networks and Cabletron.

The Cisco 1720 combines firewall, routing, and VPN functions with a channel service unit in a single device.

Two slots can accommodate the entire line of WAN interfaces avail-able today for Cisco's 1600, 2600, and 3600 routers, as well as two additional modules. The 1720 will connect to LANs via a 10/100 autosensing Ethernet port.

VPN functionality

Cisco based the device's VPN functionality on the Internet Engineering Task Force's IP Security standard, and included support for Internet Key Exchange and X.509 certificates. The 1720's RISC CPU can perform DES encryption and compression at 512Kbps.

A slot in the router will accommodate a co-processor, due in mid-1999, that will encrypt and compress data at T1 or E1 speeds.

Also at NetWorld+Interop, Cabletron unveiled a line of VPN-capable devices for branches and small offices, called the SmartSwitch Router 100, 200, and 500 series.

Nortel rolled out additions to its Contivity extranet routers, for support of multipoint LAN-to-LAN VPNs and X.509 certificates.

But the start-ups that pioneered the market are fighting back.

VPNet has announced a partner program in which it will certify some vendors' devices to interoperate with their own VPN box. Initial certifications include Hewlett-Packard's NetServer line and Clarent's voice-over-IP gateways.

VPNet is now working with vendors of mission-critical applications to certify that those applications will run as required over VPNet VPNs.