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Prudential Dumps Dial-up for VPN

Exario Networks cuts carrier's access costs in half while improving security and service levels.

Exario Networks cuts carrier's access costs in half while improving security and service levels.

It's great for employees to be able to remotely log on to the company extranet just by logging on to an ISP. But proprietary dial-up services can be expensive.

Prudential Insurance Co. of America ($371 billion in assets, Newark, NJ) planned to hook up about 25,000 of its employees and wanted to cut back on the $14 million spent annually on proprietary dial-up services. "The idea was to look at alternatives to help us save money," says Ed Mann, vice president, information systems. "We had a requirement to go to a token-based authentication system rather than passwords that changed every 30 days."

Prudential also wanted to take advantage of new high-speed connections and was driven in its choices by the employees' demands. As Prudential began to explore possible uses for broadband, employees asked, "'Why should I have to investigate this myself?' So we took it upon ourselves to look at some offerings," Mann says.

Limited Functionality

Unfortunately, most were consumer-grade connections, unfit for business demands. "That's fine if you're just surfing the Net, but if you're trying to do real business, first of all, it's not secure, and second, there's no service level," Mann says.

A search for business-level services narrowed the field to about six companies, according to Mann. Of those, several were financially insecure, and others couldn't deliver the required functionality or service levels. The carrier settled on Exario Networks' virtual private network (VPN) offering. Virtual private networking offers an alternative with lower cost, greater reliability and security, plus high-bandwidth connections for those employees whose work can benefit from bigger pipes. "Exario had the kind of functionality we needed, plus a lot of extra services above just the DSL connection," Mann says. Among these were Exario's VirtualNOC (network operations center), which allows users to access and manage all aspects of their IP network through a single interface.

Work commenced this past January and a pilot connecting 15 employees with DSL connections was up-and-running by March. The system was operational by mid-June. As part of the installation, says Tom Clark, team leader, telecom engineering, Prudential, "we ordered a T1 connection, which they brought to our premises in Newark, and a head-end router. The line goes from serial connection to Ethernet. Their connection terminates at our Roseland, NJ, site, and from that point we take the connection and feed it to our VPN gateways, which are Nortel Brampton, ON connectivity switches."

Employees have the option to connect to the VPN using a dial-up service, or to request a DSL connection, Mann says. "They now have the capability of accessing Exario's connection at speeds from 144k to 1.5 MGs," he says. Prudential embarked on an internal advertising campaign to advise its dispersed workforce of the service. The carrier will pay for the service by internal chargeback for individuals or business units for whom the option makes economic sense. "We've got people running up ISPN dial-up services bills of sometimes $1,000 a month because they're on up to 12 hours a day, whereas if they get the DSL connection from Exario, it's a fixed price," Mann says.

25,000 Staffers To Connect

With 18,000 employees now using the VPN, the solution has already allowed Prudential to cut the $14 million dial-up cost to $7 million, Mann says. By the end of the year he expects to have connected a total of 25,000 people and saved another $1 million.

In addition to having "basically the highest existing level of encryption built-in," Mann says, the VPN's DSL capability enables employees access to applications such as video conferencing and distance learning. "We're also testing voice capabilities with the DSL," Mann adds.

In the future, Prudential hopes to provide universal availability of high-speed connections. "We'd like to get to the point where it doesn't matter whether it's DSL, cable or satellite. We have people in places like rural areas of Arizona, where there's not a lot of incentive for providers to put broadband connections in place," he says. Fortunately, he adds, "Exario is agnostic about the last-mile technology and is looking at other types of local connections."



Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Newark, NJ, ($371 billion inassets).

Life, property and casualty, health and long-term care.

Exario Networks (Parsippany, NJ) VPN; Nortel (Brampton, ON) Extranet Access Client.

Cut costs by switching from dial-up to VPN.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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