Internap dives into the VPN services market

Internap Network Services launched a managed site-to-site IP virtual private network service Thursday that promises high network availability in addition to secure data networking.

Called PrivatePath, the service is the ISP's first IP VPN offering. It requires users to deploy pre-configured Cisco Systems Inc. routers that support IPSec tunneling and 128-bit data encryption between hundreds of user sites. Internap then provisions a dedicated Internet connection - from 1M bit/sec to 45M bit/sec - for each location.

Because Internap has only 31 points-of-presence (POP) in the U.S. and three overseas, the ISP has teamed with AT&T Corp. and Genuity Inc. to extend its network reach. For PrivatePath customers in cities where Internap does not have a local POP, Internap will buy a circuit from either AT&T or Genuity. Customers will be informed that their connections are provisioned by another ISP, but Internap says it retains ownership and manages the customer's edge router and connection.

"In these cases, customers will still have one point of contact at Internap," says John Watkins, senior director for VPN marketing at the ISP.

Internap is one of the national ISPs that does not own its own fiber, but buys network connectivity from 11 of the largest backbone providers. Internap offers customers enhanced traffic routing over these networks to provide what it calls the highest performance available.

"Internap's diverse connectivity is a dream come true," says Joe Turnbull, senior director of network engineering at ADP Brokerage Services Group in Jersey City, N.J. "They tied together the top ISPs, and we connect to two separate POPs for redundancy." Previously, Turnbull maintained dedicated connections to multiple ISPs, which he has been able to greatly reduce.

Some of the backbone providers that Internap works with include AT&T, Cable and Wireless PLC, Genuity, Global Crossing Holdings Ltd., Sprint Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc. and WorldCom Inc.'s UUNET and Digex Inc. Internap's connectivity along with its intelligent routing are two assets the ISP often touts.

"We actively manage traffic across multiple backbone networks based on availability and congestion, which optimizes throughput for customers," Watkins says.

This technology allows the service provider to deliver traffic over the least congested route at any of its POPs to offer customers the highest performance available at that time.

Internap needs such a differentiator, as its IP VPN offering is entering a crowded market. In fact, all of the network providers that Internap teams with offer CPE-based IP VPN services, with the exception of Digex, which focuses on Web hosting services.

"Other ISPs are offering CPE-based IP VPN services, but Internap also offers a value-added routing service, which is its biggest selling point," says Steven Harris, an analyst at consulting firm IDC.

Internap has been offering this capability to its dedicated Internet access customers for several years and will make the same intelligent routing capabilities available to its PrivatePath customers.

PrivatePath also includes performance guarantees including 100 percent network availability, 55 msec or less of round-trip latency and no more than 1 percent packet loss. Internap says it automatically credits its customer's accounts, starting with one-day's worth of service, if it does not meet the guarantees. This is the same guarantee that Internap offers its dedicated Internet access customers. The ISP says that a VPN specific SLA will be available this summer.

Internap has also teamed up with VeriSign Inc. to offer customers managed firewall and intrusion detection services. These services go beyond securing data that travels over Internap's network, but focus more on keeping customers corporate network secure.

PrivatePath is available now starting at about US$1,400 per month per megabit.