Sun to offer Java-based remote access

Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to offer a Java-powered remote-access solution to the Defense Department and other federal agencies that need a secure, cost-effective way to support remote users.

Known and used internally throughout Sun's corporate structure for more than a year before its public release in May, Sun's i-Planet 2.0 secure remote-access product is designed to serve as an alternative to what the company describes as more costly and burdensome virtual private network (VPN) solutions.

The product is built around Java, Sun's home-brewed operating system that allows all Internet-connected devices, from PCs to cell phones to fax machines, to communicate and share information regardless of their network location or the operating system being used.

According to Sun, i-Planet offers mobile users true remote access to their desktops and corporate networks from anywhere in the world using any device that has an Internet connection, even a kiosk. Users need only a Java-capable World Wide Web browser, company officials said.

"[It] gives you platform-neutral secure-network access to get into your computing environment," said Brian Leonard, enterprise architect in the Chief Technology Office of Sun Microsystems Federal Inc. "It allows an enterprise to define secure portals [and also] creates on-demand extranets for supply-chain and electronic-commerce integration."

According to John Leahy, the acting director of marketing for Sun Federal, the company is talking with the Navy about the potential use of i-Planet "as an architectural option" for the service's Electronic Common Operational Picture initiative. ECOP is designed to provide military personnel with a common view of the battlefield down to the desktop, regardless of where the user is located on the network.

However, more important for i-Planet's future in the federal arena may be DOD's consideration of building a third publicly accessible network to help secure military information from hackers, Leahy said. "If the DOD goes down the path of developing a separate intranet, it will be very interesting to see how i-Planet factors into that plan," he said.

Key to i-Planet is what Sun calls the "NetLet," a Java applet that is dynamically downloaded to any client device from the i-Planet server to provide an encrypted and authenticated connection to a corporate network gateway. Because no client software is downloaded, the NetLet can be used on any Java-capable device—even one that sits behind a remote firewall. This capability is one of the key differences between i-Planet and traditional virtual private networks, Leonard said.

"VPNs require coordination of software at both ends [of the network connection]," Leonard said. "With i-Planet, it's done dynamically with no need to configure or maintain software and certificates."Another attractive feature of i-Planet, particularly for government customers, is the cost savings that can come from using the solution, Sun officials said.

According to Leonard, i-Planet eliminates the need to maintain costly modem pools. Such pools are used by most organizations to provide remote-access capabilities today. In fact, additional savings from not having to support routers and telecommunications costs can save companies up to 60 percent over traditional methods of providing remote access, Leonard said. For Sun, the savings from using i-Planet are estimated to be about $10 million per year, Leonard said.

"Now your corporation doesn't have to become its own Internet service provider," he said.

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How it Works

* User accesses a corporate network using any Internet-connected computer or kiosk equipped with a Java-capable Web browser.

* User establishes a secure, authenticated connection with the i-Planet server using Secure Socket Lay encryption and a Java "NetLet" downloaded to the client device.

* User chooses to activate Windows NT, Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX or Novell NetWare.

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