BT readies VPNs for Concert encore

British Telecom is getting ready for a renewed push for its Internet protocol virtual private network (IP VPN) managed services...

British Telecom is getting ready for a renewed push for its Internet protocol virtual private network (IP VPN) managed services through its BT Ignite division. The move comes as the company completes unwinding its Concert joint venture with AT&T.

BT is looking to roll out additional VPN services based on technologies such as Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Class of Service (CoS), as a way to prioritise and manage traffic in a network, said Steve Brady, vice-president of data and IP services for BT Ignite.

"We expect Concert to be fully dissolved by the end of the first quarter of this year. But once that is done, we will use the Concert capabilities we will inherit to bring IP VPN services to 30 countries across Europe, with AT&T continuing to be one of our biggest customers," Brady said.

BT Ignite offers a variety of IP services to corporate and wholesale customers throughout Europe, including American Express, McDonald's and Visa. The company is looking to become more of a presence in Europe now that it is freeing itself from Concert, Brady said.

"We already have between 800 and 700 IP VPN customers in the UK alone. We have found IP VPN to be one of the most buoyant markets we've seen in a long time. In fact, demand in the last nine months is the strongest we've seen for any IP product in the last six years," Brady said.

A VPN is a private network that uses the Internet to send secure, encrypted packets of data and allows access to a corporate network as if the user were on a LAN.

BT sees IP VPNs as a way to help customers to run their business more efficiently and effectively, Brady said. "Our MPLS network allows a number of VPNs to share the same network with tight security, as security is designed into the basic fabric of the network with MPLS. It allows for sharing the network and also brings good quality of service as well as cost effectiveness," Brady said.

Additionally, BT Ignite uses IPsec technology to create a defined and secure tunnel through the Internet and offer the benefits of pan-European connectivity, Brady said.

"We see MPLS and IPsec as a very powerful combination, and we expect MPLS with CoS to be very effective. Most of our customers, once they've gotten IP, ask us 'When can you give us class of service?' Well, we'll start taking orders at the end of April," Brady said.

CoS will actually become available in the UK at the end of May, and BT plans to roll out CoS throughout Europe in the 12 months after that, Brady said.

Although BT Ignite would not reveal its pricing plan for CoS, there will be an additional cost for the service. "We've bounced our pricing plan off of a number of clients and it's judged to be reasonable," said Steven Carter, manager of BT Ignite's EquIP and metro product division.

"CoS is an alternative to just buying a bigger access pipe because it manages traffic better. CoS automatically classes the priority of the packet - be it voice, data or video - and assigns it a level of importance from one to three. The network reads the packet headers to determine which class it is, making the network more application aware. CoS gives a much more user-orientated approach to IP networks," Brady said.

BT will also couple CoS with directory services and other applications that can then be tailored to different departments in a company as well as different users. "It has a number of benefits, such as when a new employee comes to the company, or leaves for that matter, a business can add or delete that employee's connection through one directory structure," Brady said.

Currently, BT Ignite's VPN business is still smaller than its frame relay business, though Carter would not say just how much revenue VPNs are generating for BT. "It's in the millions of pounds, I can say that, and we do expect it will grow exponentially," Carter said.

In the more distant future BT Ignite will also look to optical Ethernet technology to bring more services to customers, Brady said. "What we're most interested in is using optical Ethernet as another access medium into IP VPNs. It will be very important to large corporate sites and for bringing multimedia to their sites," Brady said.

Last October, BT and AT&T agreed to disband their loss-making Concert joint venture and return the assets to the parent companies.

Read more on Antivirus, firewall and IDS products