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Network-Based VPN Services

Winging It

We witnessed the vast price difference when carriers and providers of IP VPN services responded to the RFI we created for a fictitious aircraft manufacturer, Wing and a Prayer (WAAP). The one MPLS proposal we received was the most expensive solution.

In our RFI scenario, we informed vendors that WAAP intends to eliminate frame relay if it finds a solution that's more cost-effective and equally secure (see "IP VPNs on a Wing and a Prayer,"). WAAP has offices and manufacturing plants in Atlanta; Chicago; Fort Worth, Texas; Palmdale, Calif.; and Wichita, Kan. Employees use the company's simple frame relay network to transfer files and e-mail from one plant to another. Currently, the Wichita corporate office employs a full T1 line; Chicago has 768 Kbps, and the other offices each have a 512-Kbps connection. WAAP is looking to cut costs and maintain the same level of service.

Virtela's IP VPN

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We asked our respondents to provide a comparable IP network scenario and discuss its security and SLA (service-level agreement). MCI, Qwest Communications International, TManage and Virtela Communications all provided responses that met our requirements, and offered several workable options. AT&T, BellSouth Corp., Masergy Communications, Sprint, SBC Communications and Verizon Communications declined our invitation to participate, each citing time constraints.

We graded our respondents on the ease of migration to the carrier's network, ability to make bandwidth changes, options for traffic prioritization, data security, SLAs and price. We felt the last three criteria were the most important, weighting each at 25 percent of the overall score (see our Report Card).

Where's MPLS?

IP VPN Pricing

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MPLS will evolve into the preferred replacement for frame relay and private-line networks by 2006, according to Gartner, but none of our respondents has jumped on that bandwagon yet. Of the five proposals we received, only one was an MPLS solution: MCI included MPLS as an option along with its public Internet solution. The MPLS proposal was far more expensive than any other in the group, and $2,000 per month more than MCI's alternative. Still, MCI's MPLS security level came closest to the existing frame relay network's security. Qwest, TManage and Virtela all proposed tunneling over standard IP networks, which is less secure than MPLS would be.

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