Increased corporate investment in new virtual private networking technologies indicates that companies now recognise the Internet as a business-class network, according to a survey by Forrester Research.

Forrester found that deployment of state-of-the-art VPN technology has increased as much as 80 percent during the past year. VPNs eliminate the need for dedicated connections to corporate systems by carving out private space across a shared network such as the Internet. Most of the 735 telecommunications decision-makers surveyed were replacing their existing VPNs.

The survey findings mean that companies are preparing to support emerging applications -- such as voice over IP that require converged voice and data networks -- to enable employees to become more mobile. "We’re at a tipping point in terms of people upgrading connectivity," says Robert Whiteley, an analyst at Forrester.

The survey showed a spike in adoption rates of two VPN technologies: multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and remote access SSL. MPLS enables companies to manage network traffic according to priority and is popular for converged networks carrying voice, video and data. Remote access SSL is a widely used encryption protocol.

Despite the multimillion-dollar investment required to implement MPLS (large enterprises typically spend around US$3 million for a global network), the percentage of companies that are implementing MPLS grew to 60 percent, compared with 29 percent in 2005. Whiteley says security, reliability and cost reduction are driving MPLS adoption. For example, the ability to prioritise traffic protects business continuity, so that an event like a denial of service attack would not affect critical applications such as voice and SAP.

Deployment of SSL also increased. Last year 34 percent of companies were implementing the technology; that number swelled this year to 53 percent. Whiteley says the interest in SSL supports the idea that employees are becoming more mobile.

Best practices
1. Plan ahead: Look now into upgrading your VPN for potential savings down the road. Although the initial investment in MPLS can be high, the savings from operating a converged network will begin in around 18 months. Remote access SSL pays for itself in as little as six to eight months.

2. Consider the big picture: "Old" VPN technologies (such as frame relay) may become a bottleneck to deploying emerging technologies, says Whiteley, due to their limited bandwidth, higher latency (how much time it takes for a packet of data to get from one point to another) and higher operational costs, among other issues.

3. Revisit rejected projects: Projects such as ERP systems that may have been too expensive or technically unsupportable may become doable using MPLS because the networking standard offers lower latency, increased bandwidth and the ability to prioritise traffic.