As the dynamics of how we work change — we’re away from offices, on mobile devices, and often dependent on a mobile broadband connection — the tools to enable easy access and smooth experiences of getting that work done are beginning to pop up. The latest example is iSimplyConnect, a pay-as-you-go VPN service specifically built for the iPad and aimed at smaller companies.
iSimplyConnect, which officially launches on Tuesday, is a service that lets workers access their company’s network remotely via an iPad (or iPhone). The service is a monthly subscription, which means you only pay for the months you choose to use it. Asavie, the company behind the service, charges $15 a month for up to three users, $40/month for up to 10 users, $95/month for 11 to 25 users and $180/month for 26 to 50 users. It’s different than something like LogMeIn or GoToMyPC in that it provides a secure network connection behind your company’s firewall and your personal work computer doesn’t have to be turned on for iSimplyConnect to work.
Though this new service is its first direct-to-business-customers venture, the company behind iSimplyConnect is not new to telecom or networking. Asavie, based in Dublin, Ireland has been providing secure networking services to partners like Vodafone, Telefonica and AT&T for almost a decade. But with seven years of working on the core, proprietary technology, CEO Ralph Shaw said it was time to figure out a way to also offer a new service directly to end users.
iSimplyConnect targets businesses of about 50 employees or fewer. It can work fine for companies with thousands of employees, Shaw said, but those are the kind of companies who already have huge contracts with systems integrators who handle this kind of service themselves via technology from Juniper or Cisco, he figures. Shaw and company are looking to be a cheaper, cloud-based alternative for small companies that don’t have a ton to spend on VPN services but want just-as-good security and ease of use.
It’s pretty good timing, too, as Apple looks to have another hit on its hands with the new iPad. And while consumers are snapping them up, these iPads are likely getting used at work: an NPD survey at the end of 2011 found that 73 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses planned to buy tablets in 2012, and “most” indicated those tablets would be iPads, according to NPD. And tablets are not just tools for checking corporate e-mail — they’re for creating presentations, charts, reports, documents, data visualizations, filling out forms and much more more. So it’s natural that workers would want access to secure files and documents even when away from the office.
Risk factors and the iPad
The iPad, besides growing in popularity among business customers, Shaw says, is attractive to companies weighing enterprise IT security concerns, “because it’s effectively a closed environment from an enterprise perspective. It’s much safer to use, and from security and risk perspective you’re minimizing your risks round losing data and so forth. It’s a much better design for controlling risks that enterprises worry about all the time.”
iSimplyConnect’s core technology enables Asavie to provide a virtual VPN, and it all takes place in the company’s data centers in Dublin, Denver and at another location in the U.K. Here’s the technical explanation of what goes on once you’ve hooked your iPad up to the service, according to Asavie:
Once connected our service securely routes the device’s traffic to the customer’s Office Network. The iSimplyConnect Server, during installation, enrolls in our public key infrastructure (PKI) and gets issued with an X.509 Certificate for all future authentication to our cloud. The iSimplyConnect Server maintains an always-on connection to our cloud by connecting (outbound) via TLS on TCP port 443. This means that you don’t need a static IP address or open and/or port-forward on interface firewall. When your iPad communicates over their iSimplyConnect VPN, their connections “magically” appear from behind the iSimplyConnect Server.
But one thing iSimplyConnect is basing its appeal on is its ability to hide all that complicated technology — to make it seamless and not frustrating for the end user. “We’ve tried to boil it down as simple as possible,” said Shaw. “We’re taking pain away … the complexity, we’ve brought it up to the [data] center and hidden it from the customer.”
I can vouch that this took very little time to set up and I didn’t have to have experience as a sys admin to understand the process. To use iSimplyConnect you need an always-on Windows machine or server, and once you install the software (which is free for the first 15 days) on it, you then download the free app from the iOS App Store to each user’s iPad. Once you input your email address and PIN to let you join your company’s network, you’re in business. A little “VPN” icon on the top left corner of the iPad will tell you when it’s on. You’ll never have to even open the app again on your iPad, unless you want to mess with the settings.
It’s a smart move to target mobile workers with iPads as it’s a growing segment. But being cheap and easy to use doesn’t mean that far bigger companies couldn’t push iSimplyConnect out of the way some day. As for whether iSimplyConnect might expand its appeal and work on competing mobile platforms some day, Shaw basically said that the company will wait to see if a decent tablet competitor emerges.
“At the moment our belief is it’s Apple’s market. Our conentration is to be No. 1 with No. 1. That’s where we’re at and our focus,” he said. “We don’t see others ready for prime time at the moment. Our focus is very much on trying to do as good as we can with the iPad.”