New tech builds mobile virtual private networks

A small start-up company in Northern Virginia is targeting the federal market with an application that enables organizations to create "virtual" networks to connect mobile workers spread out over a geographic region.

Ecutel LLC's product, called Viatores, allows users to work securely on mobile computers— palmtops and laptops— as well as desktops to create a virtual private network (VPN) over the Internet. On that network, users can transfer and share files quickly and easily, as if they were on a standard local-area network.

But Ecutel has built into its product a feature that allows mobile users to stay mobile— to move their computers from location to location and from Internet service provider to Internet service provider without having to reconfigure their systems.

The analogy that Ecutel officials like to use to describe their product involves the mobile telephone: A user can use a cell phone without having to reconfigure the device each time his signal is handed off to a different communications tower or to a different cellular communications provider.

"We wanted to design a set of software to help users move easily from network to network," said Dzung Tran, chief technical officer of Ecutel, Alexandria, Va.

Alleviating Aggravation

According to John Harrison, chief executive officer at Ecutel, the company wants to address the aggravation that computer users have had when moving from location to location while still needing to maintain a VPN.

"Everything became chaotic when [VPN users who needed mobility] tried to communicate," Harrison said. "It was taking a lot of time because they had to reconfigure their networks each time." In some cases, it might take as long as 40 minutes to reconfigure a virtual network, Harrison said.

Given that history of aggravation, Ecutel officials see a strong potential entree with federal and law enforcement customers, according to Preston Cherouny, director of business development at Capital Reps LLC, Reston, Va., which is a procurement consulting firm Ecutel has contracted with to search for resellers and potential customers in the federal market.

"It's just a very effective way for your remote users to keep in touch," said Cherouny, who explained that any agency with mobile users would be a potential buyer of VPN technology. Cherouny said his company is trying to find about five government resellers that can act as go-betweens for Ecutel and those potential federal buyers.

Within the next couple of months, Ecutel officials expect the leadership of a counternarcotics initiative involving several Southern states to endorse the company's software product. As many as 3,000 law enforcement officials participating in the initiative might use the product to create a VPN for sharing information while investigating drug-related crimes.

But Jim Hurley, manager of the information security practice at Aberdeen Group, said there seems to be little serious interest now in VPN products for mobile users in the market overall. "People are interested in it, but I have not seen any deployment," he said.

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