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Can Remote Access Costs Be Cut While Increasing Productivity?

Companies with growing mobile workforces can gain strategic advantage by adopting a managed services model to enable convenient-yet-secure remote access by travelers, teleworkers and day extenders.

Making The Business Case
Of course, every company and workforce is different, so the most cost-effective solution can vary. Before adopting any alternative secure remote access solution, existing and proposed costs should be analyzed to verify positive return on investment.

Like most complex equations, quantifying total cost of ownership requires breaking the problem down into individual components. By examining one-time and recurring cost factors, we can more easily see where to plug in the variables that reflect each company’s needs and remote user population.When estimating one-time remote access setup costs, consider the following factors:
* Installing Internet Access can include purchasing modems or routers and broadband service activation. Although part of total setup cost, this factor can often be ignored when comparing Internet-based alternatives since it is common to all.
* Capital Equipment Purchases are necessary for customer-premise IPsec and SSL VPNs, but not for network-based managed services. To estimate VPN gateway prices, consider the number of users and high availability requirements for larger workforces. Software Licenses can be included in the price of an IPsec VPN gateway or purchased separately. Most enterprise-class IPsec gateways include VPN client licenses, but separate purchase may be required for SOHO gateways and less common client devices like PDAs.
* Managed Service Activation Fees cover the provider’s cost of installation, configuration, and (for SSL VPNs) custom application development. To estimate activation fees, consider the number of users and required business applications.
* Administrative Setup Costs include VPN gateway installation, configuration, and firewall/server integration. There are no comparable costs for fully-managed services, since account setup is the provider’s responsibility.
* Administrator Training is required for all remote access solutions, but managed services usually require less extensive training. To estimate training costs, consider the number of administrators, which in turn reflects the size of the workforce.

To estimate recurring monthly costs, consider the following factors:
* Monthly Internet Access fees for dial-up, DSL, cable, wireless, and global roaming play a significant role in total cost but are common across Internet-based alternatives.
* Annual Hardware and Software Fees for in-house VPNs include maintenance contracts for patches, upgrades, tech support, and (for IPsec) VPN Client upgrades. There are no comparable costs for network-based managed services. Annual PC Leasing Fees reflect the fact that companies using IPSec VPNs often lease laptops for remote users. When comparing a browser-based solution to IPSec, factor in potential savings associated with leasing desktops in leiu of laptops. Managed Service Fees are typically based on number of users or seats, with annual contracts and volume discounts. There are no managed service fees for in-house VPNs, but there may be on-going fees for custom SSL VPN “plug-ins” that may be necessary to support less common applications.
* Monthly Administrative Costs for in-house VPN gateways include updating firewall rules, trouble-shooting problems, and monitoring VPN logs and usage reports. Companies with existing VPNs can base this on first-hand experience. Others can use vendor estimates for overall VPN administration. For example, Cisco estimates that an in-house IPSec VPN administrative runs $30 per month per user. New User Adds can be spread over the calendar year to reflect phased roll-out. For IPSec VPNs, new user costs include Client installation, configuration, and end user training. For browser-based alternatives, there is no Client to install, but new accounts must be added and users must learn how to use the service and (in some cases) webified applications.

In a recent study for Citrix Online, I developed a general-purpose calculator to compare costs associated with in-house VPNs and GoToMyPC Corporate, a browser-based managed secure remote access service. I used nearly two dozen industry analyst reports, VPN vendor research, and customer interviews to derive customizable defaults for each cost factor. Given existing and proposed user counts, this calculator can estimate initial outlay, monthly costs/savings, and potential return on investment.

Using this calculator to examine three case studies, it became easy to see that capital equipment and on-going administration dominate in-house VPN costs. In these cases, managed service fees for GoToMyPC Corporate were consistently lower than VPNs of comparable size. Although every company is different, this same methodology can be used to estimate your own company’s remote access costs.

Companies just getting started with remote access may find browser-based managed services are a convenient, cost-effective alternative to traditional VPNs. Companies with existing VPNs may still save money by selectively offloading high-cost users. So do your homework, crunch the numbers, and see for yourself whether adopting browser-based managed services can help your company deliver more convenient and cost-effective remote access to diverse user communities.

Lisa Phifer, Vice President of Core Competence, has been involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of open networking, security and management products for over 20 years. Lisa has hands-on experience with a wide range of internetworking technologies, including ATM, caching, ISDN, 802.11 wireless and VPNs.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or the industry in general? Speak out in the ASPnews Discussion Forum.

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