Try it before you buy it.

It’s a sales pitch often associated with laundry detergent, shampoo and even software from Microsoft and America Online.

On Thursday, the Verisign business unit of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce extended the trial concept to network security.

While the CIBC Online Pilot Program and the PKI Discovery Program are not free like the Tide sample in your mailbox, they do offer large enterprises the opportunity to test-drive public key infrastructure for a fraction of the price of a full security implementation.

Though costs can vary significantly depending on the size of the enterprise, Anthony Santilli, director of product marketing for CIBC’s Verisign division, said the cost of sampling PKI is well under six figures. A full CIBC Verisign implementation can run upwards of $300,000.

“Both the discovery and the pilot are targeted at large enterprises whose full application would cost (up to) $300,000,” Santilli said. “These customers have the highest risk. Be we now have something at a tenth of the price of that.”

Santilli added that solutions offered by CIBC, a Canadian affiliate of Mountain View, Ca.-based security outfit Verisign Inc., are in general much more affordable than custom-built PKI systems. CIBC maintains its own data centre where it handles all the back end operations, leaving customers to worry only about maintaining Internet access.

“Previous to Verisign being in the Canadian market, all there was only an in-store solution,” which can cost millions of dollars, Santilli said. “We’re a different experience. We come in and in four to five days, you’re up and running.

“The objective (of the new programs) is two-fold – to educate the market and to lower the barriers of entry.”

Santilli refers to the PKI Discovery Program as a consultancy process, wherein CIBC would suggest money-saving initiatives like replacing dedicated lines with virtual private networks (VPNs). The five-day program also includes a review of applications currently in use that can be migrated online by using digital certificates, and a strategy for rolling out a PKI solution.

The followup to the discovery is the Onsite Pilot Program, Santilli said. The three-month program allows an enterprise to implement PKI into one application, such as a VPN, intranet or extranet. Participating businesses can extend the trial to a sizeable amount of employees by issuing up to 100 digital certificates.

Dan McLean, a networking analyst with IDC Canada, said the major problem with PKI is its difficult implementation, as PKI infrastructures need to accommodate various data and platform types that comprise enterprise networks. He said businesses have traditionally been reluctant to make that kind of investment without first-hand knowledge of the value of PKI.

“I think (CIBC’s Onsite Pilot Program) addresses something fundamental about PKI,” McLean said. “You can’t really test what it can do for you until you implement it.”

However, McLean added that a successful test of PKI on one application does not ensure it can be implemented smoothly on an entire enterprise.

“It’s a fairly limited pilot, just to give a sense of how it works,” McLean said of the CIBC Onsite Program. “I think you’d proceed with caution before a (full-scale implementation).”

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