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Virtual ISP / vISP Realms

What is a "realm" and what is the difference between a vISP using a "shared" realm verses a "private" realm?

Although the word "realm" has several meanings, when used in the internet access business, it really has only one. In this case, a realm is a usergroup name that is registered with a network, just as a domain name is registered with a registrar. When a subscriber of an ISP or virtual ISP attempts to log on to the internet, the network checks to see if they are using a realm (usergroup) authorized to access their network. If the realm is unauthorized, it is immediately blocked. However, if it is an authorized realm, the network then checks with the ISP or vISP to see if the individual user is authorized to log on. If they are not, they are then blocked at this point. If their account is in good standing access is given. All of this takes place in milliseconds.

Most ISPs use use their domain name for a realm, although this is not a requirement. If they use their own name, they are using a "private" realm. Their ISP and only their ISP has this realm. However, network providers charge to register a realm (as high as $500) and additionally, UUNet charges a $150/month realm charge. If a vISP is using many networks, this can become quite costly.

Often times a vISP Provider (an ISP that offers virtual ISP services) registers a generic realm with all of the networks and allows their virtual ISPs to share it. This is called a "shared" realm. As in the case of Alliance Solutions, we contract with between 25-30 different networks in order to have the largest nationwide system footprint of all vISP Providers. As you can imagine, registering a realm with this many networks is quite expensive for a start-up vISP. Although we will register a private realm for vISP that desires it, we also share our generic realm of "" This saves our virtual ISPs thousands of start-up dollars with which they can better use for marketing.

To better understand this, let's use the example of a vISP that with the domain name With a "private" realm, this vISP's website would reside at, the subscribers' email would be and the subscriber's logon username would be Now if Acme wanted to save a lot of money in realm registration costs, they would use a shared realm. With a "shared" realm, the vISP's website would still be at, the subscribers' email would still be at, but the logon username would be So the only difference to the subscriber is their logon username.

So which is preferable?
The biggest reason to use a private realm is simply that the logon username is the same as the user's email address. So it is easier to remember. However, most subscribers save their logon username and password and never have a need to remember it anyway.

A shared realm offers several advantages for a vISP:

  1. It saves a lot of start-up costs.
  2. When the vISP Provider adds new networks, the vISP automatically has access to them. With a private realm, they must register their realm with the network before being given access.

  3. Should a vISP desire to move their subscriber base to another provider, the subscriber will only need to change their logon username. In the case of a private realm, the realm must be moved, just as a domain is moved when a website is moved to a different host. Although moving the realm is easier for the vISP, there is a period of time (up to 72 hours) while the realm is being transferred that the subscriber will not be able to access the internet at either provider.

So although Alliance provides both private and shared realms, because of the advantages mentioned above, we almost always recommend a "shared" realm.



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