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SSL VPN Design Considerations

Chapter Description

This chapter discusses design issues you should consider when you build a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Virtual Private Network (VPN) solution.

Performance and Scalability

Performance considerations for an SSL VPN design are a bit different from those of the IPsec-based VPN because of the multiple technologies that the SSL VPN features. When you try to determine the performance of an SSL VPN appliance, you need to be clear about which resource access method you have in mind. The performance of different access methods varies greatly. The following list outlines the performance characteristics of the two most popular access methods:

  • Reverse-proxy-based web access method: This access method challenges performance and resources more than any other. The SSL VPN appliance needs to perform content rewriting for each web application page and object. This involves resource-consuming pattern searching and matching. The complexity of the web page, which includes the number of URLs and Java scripts, directly affects the performance of the system. Resources permitting, a performance testing using the web pages from your web application can give you a good estimate of real-world performance. Light Reading Lab published a test methodology for clientless performance measurement. It is posted at http://networktest.com/ssl03/ssl03meth.html.

    Consider enabling the server-side caching feature if it is available on your SSL VPN system. With caching enabled, the frequently accessed web content will be cached by the SSL VPN appliance after it is rewritten the first time.

  • Tunnel client mode: This mode is less complicated than the clientless mode and has higher performance. Instead of having to be inspected and rewritten, the web content goes through the simple encryption process, which can be easily hardware accelerated.

Chapter 2 covers the potential performance challenge that occurs when SSL or TLS supports applications that use real-time protocols. You need to consider this when you need to support applications such as IP telephony.

The scalability of the SSL VPN network is normally addressed by clustering multiple units together. For example, Cisco Adaptive Security Appliances (ASA) support pay-as-you-grow clustering techniques. Enterprises can start with a small cluster, and as the company grows, VPN administrators can easily add more units to the cluster to support more users.