Channel Tech

A Secure Foundation For e-Business



Sandy Stevens

iChain, a Novell product that is meant to lay a secure foundation for integrating e-business activities, will be available later this year. In a two-part series, we present a first look of the product.

With the evolution of the Internet over the last few years, e-business has become more than just a buzzword. It has become one of the most important strategic issues companies face today. In fact, industry analysts are predicting that e-business is the future of business. For example, International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that the amount of commerce conducted over the Internet will exceed US$ 3 trillion by the year 2003. The number of users who make purchases over the Web will jump from 31 million in 1998 to more than 183 million by 2003.

To succeed in the emerging digital economy, companies need a coherent e-business strategy. However, putting your company’s business online is no easy task. Transforming your company into an effective e-business presents technical, operational, and human challenges that are far greater than one ever imagined.

If you are grappling with the issues of building an e-business, Novell’s latest Novell Directory Services (NDS) based e-business solution, ‘iChain’, can help you expand your company’s current network to connect people and organizations with whom your company does business. If your company has launched an e-business effort and is struggling to survive in this competitive economy, iChain can also help you integrate your company’s existing web sites and manage your company’s B2B and customer relationships.

Scheduled for general release later this year, iChain enables you to build strong, secure, and manageable connections with your company’s customers, partners, suppliers, and employees.

Challenges of e-business

To understand the solution that iChain provides, you need to review the key problems companies face as they expand their networks to support e-business. The whole idea behind e-business is to use the Internet to connect external people – customers, partners and suppliers – to the information on your company’s network that they need in order to do online business with your company.

E-business includes B2B relationships – connecting your company’s network to other companies’ networks so these companies can do online business and provide services to mutual customers.

The primary issue in building an e-business network is security. To conduct e-business with your company, partners, suppliers, and customers need to access applications and data on your company’s network. Often, your company’s employees need to access these same applications and data. For security reasons, however, you obviously can’t give external people access to your company’s entire internal network.

As you know, companies currently participating in e-business have created two separate networks to solve this problem — an Intranet that connects internal people to the applications and data they need, and an extranet that connects external people to the applications and data they may need. These companies then use firewalls to isolate external people from the internal network and to isolate external unauthorized Internet users from the extranet.

For many companies, the intranet-extranet solution is both costly and administration intensive. After all, these companies must purchase and configure firewall hardware and software as well as manage the infrastructure and users on two essentially separate networks.

Although firewalls provide a good method of controlling access to a particulars network segment, they do not provide granular security to control the level of access a user has. For example, a company may want to grant a customer access to an inventory application so that the customer can view quantities in stock. However, the company may not want the customer to access the cost-of-goods information. Because most firewalls do not provide this kind of granular security, companies must implement other security mechanisms.

E-business also presents data privacy issues. When your company conducts online business with its customers, partners, and suppliers, information sent over the Internet can pass through several intermediary computers before it reaches its destination. In a perfectly honest world, these intermediary computers would simply route the traffic without monitoring it.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfectly honest. If given the opportunity, someone can and will eavesdrop on private transmissions. Eavesdroppers can intercept credit card numbers during e-commerce transactions.

As you may know only too well, e-business can also substantially increase the workload for network administrators. Expanding your company’s network to include not only employees but also customers, partners, suppliers, and everyone else your company does business with can result in a massive administration burden. E-business networks can easily grow to include thousands, if not tens-of-thousands, of people. Imagine the size of the staff that you would require to create user accounts and manage network access for a network that size!

There is also the issue of managing the multitude of web sites and web applications that companies have implemented as they have evolved their networks toward e-business. Companies often run their web sites and related applications on a variety of dissimilar systems. Unfortunately, each application provides its own authentication, its own security, its own access control, its own e-commerce engine, and its own storage of user names and profiles.

As a result, companies have a difficult time managing overlapping technologies, security is reduced to the lowest common denominator, and users must log in to several applications as if they are accessing networks at different companies. In addition, the capability of data mining and cross selling is significantly lower. This kind of web architecture makes managing and accessing web sites complex and costly.

Novell’s solution

iChain provides a platform for building and managing a secure e-business network. Rather than managing multiple web sites, Intranets, and extranets as separate entities, you can manage your company’s entire infrastructure as one cohesive network. iChain serves as a central point of administration and provides a common method of authentication, security, and access control. As a result, users log in only once and receive seamless access to all web sites and applications integrated by iChain.