As more travel professionals do business just about anywhere,
accessing valuable information and services can be a challenge.
That’s why many agencies and organizations are relying on
virtual private networks (VPNs) that provide a private and secure
“tunnel” through the Internet, so remote users or satellite offices
can access central files.
“A VPN can allow employees who travel, or who work remotely, to
access corporate file servers, e-mail servers, printers and other
private network assets,” explains Mike Millar, CEO of Millar
Technology Partners in Los Angeles. “This gives them the freedom of
working from home, or from any location with an Internet
Frank Shellabear, sales division president for CSA Travel
Protection in San Diego, says he uses a VPN:
To send and receive e-mail. “Everything from initial contact to
sign up to sell CSA to day-to-day information on products and
changes,” he says. Recently, CSA used its VPN to distribute
information to agencies, travelers and others affected by Hurricane
To post CSA data on a host’s intranet, extranet or Web site.
To create and execute Webex or similar online training and/or
conferences. “Many consortia and host agencies conduct their own
online training and CSA participates periodically,” he notes.
And, to link an agent to the CSA Web site using affiliate links
and customized desktop shortcuts.
Creating a Network
So how do you get a VPN? The easy way is to hire a technology
consultant. To build your own, you should have an understanding of
available VPN technologies and their compatibility with systems
already in use.
“In general, most travel agents will not want to attempt to
build a VPN on their own unless they are computer-networking
hobbyists as well,” says Marc Russell, CEO of Cows in the Mist, a
Seattle-based technology consultancy.
Millar agrees. “I wouldn’t try to plan a complicated
international trip,” he says. “You shouldn’t try to plan a
complicated technology solution.”
The Nuts And Bolts
Before creating a VPN, consultants Mike Millar and Marc Russell
advise you to consider:
Software-Only. A software-only VPN is the least expensive.
Russell suggests Microsoft Windows 2000 Server
(www.support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us; 308208) and
Microsoft Windows 2003 Server (www.microsoft.
For open-source systems, FreeS/WAN (www.freeswan.org/) handles the
IPSec protocol and most Linux distributions include PPTP server
support, as does MacOS X 10.2 (Jaguar).
Firewalls. Check consumer-grade firewall appliances such as the
2Wire OfficePortal and Home- Portal series (www.2wire. com/). Most
Microsoft systems include client-side VPN support but pre-2000
Windows will need separate VPN software.
Hardware. VPN appliances, which allow fast tunnels and more
users, are made by companies such as Cisco
symantec.com/products/products.cfm?ProductID=63) and NetScreen
Security. VPN technology uses the Internet so security is a
concern. “It’s vital to thoroughly understand the infrastructure of
your Local Area Network (LAN) and firewall before implementing a
VPN,” Millar says.
Bandwidth. As the number of users increases, so does the
network’s need for bandwidth (the speed at which its Internet
connection allows it to send data.) “Cable modems and DSL do not
have adequate upstream bandwidth for most applications,” Millar
says “A fractional T1 line is a better choice if the VPN will be