Russ Levanway,

As workforces get more decentralized and telecommuting becomes more widespread, businesses of all sizes have come to depend on virtual private networks, or VPNs. A VPN is a secure, private network that runs on a public network (usually the Internet). VPNs can allow remote workers secure access to your business’s internal network, just as if they were at their desks at the office. If you or your employees are routinely away from your office and need access to your company’s network, a VPN is an inexpensive way to increase productivity — without sacrificing security.

The name “virtual private network” gives you a clue about how VPNs actually work. VPN software programs carve out a section of the Web, and allow only authorized users to access it. This virtual network runs on top of an existing network and is private — password protected, and can even be encrypted. Hence the name.

Users who provide the correct login information are granted access to the VPN gateway at the office. Once they’re connected though the gateway, they can access the network just as if they were at their desks… reading and sending e-mail, opening and storing files, or working on specific local applications.

To create a secure link between a mobile user and the network, you need a VPN client and a VPN gateway. The VPN client is a software application that’s installed on the mobile computer of the remote user, and the gateway is a program or computer on the network end that lets in authorized users and keeps out unauthorized ones.

To provide additional security, the client encrypts data before it sends it out, and the gateway decodes it once it arrives. This communication between client and gateway is known as tunneling.

Even a one-person company can reap the benefits of VPN technology. Both Windows Server and Windows XP have built-in VPN capability, so if your local area network (LAN) runs on Windows Server, it’s just a matter of enabling and configuring the VPN features. That’s easier said than done, but you don’t have to be a computer science major to do it, either.

Of course, there are many non-Microsoft alternatives, too; and many are designed for the home PC user. A number of firewall applications also come with VPN capability, as a VPN gateway is very similar to a firewall. Both let trusted traffic in and keep intruders out.

Talk to your IT support provider about options that might work for your business. Options to set up VPNs are relatively cost-effective. And, what you’ll reap in employee productivity might surprise you!

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, Inc. TekTegrity is an IT Strategies and Management firm that provides premium IT services to businesses, government, education and non-profit organization in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Monterey and Kern counties. TekTegrity’s goal is to become your organizations long-term strategic partner by supporting your IT infrastructure with your bottom line in mind. Some of TekTegrity’s services include System and Workstation Installation, Virtual Hosted Servers, Priority Backup, Off-Site Data Replication, and Total Systems Management™ (TSM). TSM is an industry-leading managed services model that emphasizes proactive and preventative IT support at a predictable fixed monthly fee. For more information about TekTegrity, you can email them at info@tektegrity.com,visit www.tektegrity.com, or call 805-596-0135.