IP Services Taking a Front Seat at N+I

Savvis Communications Corp. this week launched new VPN services at NetWorld+Interop 2000 in Las Vegas.

The virtual private network services include Savvis' Internet Plus VPN, IP Xchange, Private IP Xchange and Private IP Network. All the VPN services exclusively run over Savvis' Internet backbone, except Internet Plus VPN, which also runs over the public Internet.

Most ISPs deploy VPN hardware that manages users' network policies and security parameters at each customer site. But Savvis is taking a different approach by keeping the intelligence within the network. Savvis bought 80 Nortel Shasta 5000 Broadband Service Nodes to support its VPN services, and it is also using Lucent PacketStar integrated access devices at each customer site.

The Shasta devices allow Savvis to support a wide variety of access technologies for VPN customers including ATM, frame relay, digital subscriber line and wireless in the future. Savvis also is using the Shasta boxes to set up encrypted tunnels and customer traffic management policies within Savvis' network as opposed to keeping those functions at the customer site. But by supporting IP Security encryption and Differentiated Services traffic management within Savvis' network, Savvis customers do not have those features over the last mile of their VPN connections.

"Savvis' VPN story differs from most other ISPs, which may be a difficult sale with some business users," says Don Carros, senior research analyst with Meta Group, a Stamford, Connecticut, consulting firm. But Carros says that because the link from the customer to a Savvis point of presence is typically a dedicated link that does not run over the public Internet, some believe that link is relatively secure.

Savvis CEO Rob McCormick says users can add IP Security encryption and tunneling directly at their sites, even though that feature is not part of Savvis' typical offering. McCormick says that Savvis' approach to VPN services is as secure as competitors, especially since it isolates customer's traffic on its own network as opposed to exposing that traffic to the vulnerabilities of the public Internet, he says.

ISPs such as UUNET and GTE Internetworking support traffic management and security features from the edge of a customer's VPN. What Savvis has set up keeps those features within its network, which may be easier to manage and will definitely be advantageous when Savvis upgrades its VPN systems, Carros says.

When software or hardware changes need to be made Savvis isn't going to have to worry about sending technicians out to all of its customer sites because the most important part of its VPN service is supported is within the ISP's network, he says.

Savvis is also offering customers four levels of guaranteed services that include:

Level one, which guarantees less than 50 msec. of round trip latency and less than .1 percent packet loss.

Level two, which guarantees less than 60 msec. of round trip latency and less than .25 percent packet loss.

Level three, which guarantees less than 70 msec. of round trip latency and less than .5 percent packet loss.

Level four, which guarantees less than 75 msec. of round trip latency and less than 1 percent packet loss.

All four service-level agreements (SLA) also guarantee 100 percent network availability and cover traffic traveling over Savvis' network. The ISP also offers an SLA for that traffic that travels over other ISP backbone networks that guarantees less than 200 msec. of round trip latency with less than 5 percent packet loss.

The four levels of service offer Savvis VPN customers an additional level of flexibility. Savvis VPN customers can choose to have all of their transaction oriented, time sensitive traffic get the highest priority by choosing level one and have all of their FTP traffic travel over their VPN at level four, the lowest priority.

If Savvis misses its network availability guarantee customers will be credited 5 percent of their monthly charge for a 1 to 2 hour outage, 10 percent for a 2 to 4 hour outage and 15 percent for an outage that lasts more than 4 hours. If the ISP misses its latency or packet loss guarantee, which is based on a monthly average, customers will get credited 5 percent of their monthly charge.

Savvis also claims that its VPN service offering is up to $50,000 less expensive than traditional ISP VPN services. Savvis charges US$132,000 for a VPN set-up that includes three dedicated T-1 connections and seven fractional T-1 connections running at 256K-bps. The cost includes all of the hardware and management.

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