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Citrix Systems Inc. on Tuesday announced that it is acquiring a small SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN provider, a move that company officials hope will position Citrix as a major player in the remote-access market.

The purchase of Net6 Inc. for $50 million puts Citrix smack in the middle of a rapidly expanding and fiercely competitive portion of the security market.

SSL VPNs, which allow users to access their corporate applications from any PC with a browser, have gained ground quickly in the past 18 months or so as enterprises search for cheaper and more flexible alternatives to traditional IP Security VPNs.

Click here for a review of the Citrix MetaFrame Access Suite.

As typically happens with an emerging technology, small startups such as Aventail Corp., NetScreen Inc., F5 Networks Inc. and others helped define the SSL VPN market, and then big networking companies recently began snapping up the small companies in order to add the technology to their portfolios.

Juniper Networks Inc. purchased NetScreen, Cisco Systems Inc. bought a small company called Twingo Systems and Nortel Networks Ltd. has added SSL functionality to its Contivity VPN offering.

Now Citrix, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is bidding to take a piece of that increasingly lucrative market. Net6’s key offering is its Hybrid-VPN appliance, which combines features of both SSL and IPSec VPNs. The system employs a client that is updated each time a user connects to the appliance.

Citrix plans to offer the Hybrid-VPN as part of its MetaFrame Access Suite, and as a standalone product.

Net6, based in San Jose, Calif., also sells a VOIP (voice over IP) solution for a variety of VOIP phone systems.

For Citrix, the acquisition gives it a solid foothold in a growing market and a chance to use security as a marketing device for its existing products.

“We’ve been looking at the space for some time and were looking for a company with unique attributes,” said Tony Marzulli, vice president of marketing at Citrix. “We believe with our value proposition, we can beat anyone in the [SSL VPN] marketplace right now. We think we’re on good footing right now.”

Marzulli said the company intends to keep all of Net6’s approximately 30 employees and leave them in the company’s San Jose office.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comments and further details about the acquisition.

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