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Mobile VPNs provide seamless wireless connections to far-flung workers

August 2010 E-newsletter

Security Stalwarts

Full Coverage: Mobile VPNs

Trend Micro Enterprise Security Suite

Client-Side Virtualization

When your police cruiser is part of a force that patrols a state almost 10 times larger than Belgium with about 8,000 miles of highway and endless back roads, continuous wireless data communication is a necessity.

"Oregon is diverse geographically," says Albert Gauthier, CIO of the Oregon State Department of Police. "It's a unique challenge to cover local and countywide areas."

To help law enforcement officers stay connected as they make their rounds through rural areas, the agency deployed a NetMotion Wireless Mobility XE virtual private network for seamless wireless connectivity. The state's patrol fleet has 100 notebooks running NetMotion, and Gauthier plans to deploy another 50 in the coming months. The goal is to deploy the mobile VPN to about 400 notebooks over the next few years.

The Oregon State Department of Police relies on a mobile VPN to choose the best available wireless connection, says CIO Albert Gauthier.

Photo Credit: Robbie McClaran

A mobile VPN sits at the network edge to provide secure tunneled access to clients. VPN software on the client unties the device from a physical IP address. The IP tunnel on the server allows mobile devices to switch physical IP addresses as needed, allowing clients to use different wireless transmission methods as they become available. NetMotion's software helps mobile devices choose the best wireless connection available at a given time, whether it's free Wi-Fi, narrowband or 3G cellular service.

Seamless wireless connectivity is a must for many organizations: Law enforcement, emergency responders, case managers, utility workers and inspectors all rely on mobile computing. Mobile VPNs are attractive to these organizations because they can provide secure, streamlined and optimized access for daily activities even in areas that lack wireless-carrier coverage.

"If secure mobile access is required, you have to have something like this or an entire system can be compromised," says Zeus Kerravala, distinguished research fellow at Yankee Group. "With traditional connections, like Wi-Fi, clients may be dropping in and out of coverage areas. This provides some continuity."

On the Road

The NetMotion VPN maintains, secures and optimizes wireless connections for Oregon state troopers who roam in and out of various wireless coverage areas. The product gives officers and other personnel the ability to stay logged in to a network rather than constantly logging in and authenticating each time they lose a connection when they're on the move.

Learn more about Oregon's e-citations system at statetechmag.com/eticket308.

Information on the mobile device stays local until the VPN locates a connection or a connection becomes available, says Gauthier. "It's not a typical connected environment with a handshake on a server," he says. "NetMotion sends to a memory buffer on the mobile desktop."

Officers with notebook computers can write and remotely file electronic citations, file field reports and transmit data (such as license numbers) without returning to headquarters. They also can remotely file electronic citations.

Go with the Flow

JEA (Jacksonville Electric Authority) in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the largest municipal utilities in the United States, serving 750,000 customers in a region that spans 841 square miles. The organization's responsibilities include having technicians respond to calls about downed power lines, sewage repairs, water line breaks and power outages.

The utility chose the NetMotion VPN for 550 field notebooks because it provides seamless connectivity and application persistence.

"We use Verizon, but our technicians bounce between towers and lose applications," says Bonnie Andersen, PC support specialist at JEA. "They'd disconnect and have to spend time reconnecting."

Jocelyn Granger, applications systems project lead, adds, "The wireless VPN creates a pseudo-live connection. Temporary blips are transparent."

The city of Havelock, N.C., also uses NetMotion Mobility for its fire and police departments, says Vincent Midgley, IT technician for the city. Fire trucks and police cruisers are equipped with Panasonic Toughbooks, while some other municipal workers have notebooks with wireless VPN access.

522 Number of service calls Oregon state troopers respond to daily

Source: Oregon State Department of Police

Midgley chose NetMotion after considering a point-to-point VPN with a wireless carrier that proposed using edge appliances and an in-house 900 megahertz network. "We found the NetMotion solution less cumbersome," he says. "The 900MHz radio solution would have required us to build a massive network to provide the same coverage as [a Sierra Wireless] AirCard solution would have provided."

Havelock tested NetMotion on a virtual server with no out-of-pocket expense, Midgley says. "That allowed us to provide full proof of concept to our budget analysts before the city spent a penny of taxpayer money on the NetMotion VPN solution."

The city spent about $16,000 to install the NetMotion system. "This wasn't prohibitively expensive, but it changed the way we do business,"

Midgley says, adding that the virtualization of the application on the server showed the city's management how easy and effective virtualized servers can be.

Future Promises

Eventually, the Oregon State Department of Police wants to incorporate the wireless VPN into a larger regional network that connects law enforcement virtually. In the wake of increasing security concerns, Gauthier sees a need to give officers and other state police departments in neighboring states a seamless data network to exchange information in real time.

JEA just upgraded its system to provide for remote management of notebooks in its trucks, say Granger and Andersen, allowing the agency to solve programming issues or install new applications from afar.

No Substitute

Mobile VPNs shouldn't be considered an interchangeable option or alternative to a wired VPN. Both are meant to address separate environments, says Zeus Kerravala, distinguished research fellow at Yankee Group. The mobile aspect is unique and imposes special requirements on users. Conversely, wired VPNs, like wired communications in general, tend to be more constant and consistent.

Apr 16 2010

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