Virtual private networks (VPNs) enable folks outside the main office -- in a branch office, for instance, or on the road -- to create a secure connection to the headquarter's local area network (LAN) or to other networks.
The two main types of VPNs are Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) and Secure Socket Layer (SSL). During the past few years, SSL -- which is more user-friendly -- has grown to a point at which some pundits say that it will take over the category.
The two are significantly different, though their end goal is about the same. IPSec requires a client to be downloaded and configured. SSL, on the other hand, is accessed through a browser. Some experts say that SSL is more secure because it doesn't provide access to the entire internal network. The feeling isn't universal, however, because SSL has its own potential problems.
What is clear is that SSL VPNs are geared more toward mobile users, while IPSec favors stationary applications. Since the use case varies, it seems likely that both approaches will survive.
The sizzle, however, clearly belongs to SSL. Established companies in the sector include Cisco, Aventail, SonicWall and Juniper. There is no better barometer of a segment's rising profile than Microsoft's level of interest. The company got into the act last year by acquiring Whale Communications.
This InternetNews piece suggests how dynamic the SSL sector has become. Growth, the report says, will come both through upgrades and first-time purchases. We haven't seen a report on the IPSec sector recently. We wouldn't be surprised if it also is healthy, but perhaps in a more sedate way that reflects the category's maturity.