Working outside of the office has its benefits, and many professionals find their productivity increasing when not stuck at a cubicle. But to get that productivity boost, professionals still need access to resources on the internal network, such as file servers and office communication applications. A virtual private network (VPN) provides that access. Below, we discuss what a VPN does and methods for setting up a VPN.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
A VPN is a private and secure connection between two or more points over the internet which allows for an exchange of data. The connected computers comprise a virtual network, with functionality mirroring that of a physical network. Two computers connected via VPN appear as being on the same network and can share files as if they were connected via network switch.
Most businesses use VPN for two reasons: one to allow remote employees access to the office network; and two to connect several networks across multiple offices together. For instance, a business with two offices would use a VPN to connect the two local networks together. This allows users both offices access to the same shared storage drives. The benefit of using VPN for remote access to the company network includes allowing users to send print jobs to printers located in the office or to work on files stored on the network drive.
VPN Standards and Security
VPN networks use tunneling protocols to set up and secure connections between computers, and there are several commonly used protocols.
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – The oldest and least secure method, but also the most commonly supported. Avoid using PPTP when setting up an office VPN.
- Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/ IPSec – A two-step tunneling protocol, L2TP is an extension of PPTP. Commonly used to support remote connections to the office.
- OpenVPN – A newer and more secure type VPN tunneling protocol, desktop operating systems do not support it by default. Creating an OpenVPN connection requires third party hardware or applications.
- Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) – A proprietary Windows VPN protocol available on Windows systems newer than Vista SP1. More secure than a L2TP/IPsec connection and bypass most firewalls. Being a Microsoft protocol however, do not expect much support for other operating system environments.
How to set up a VPN
Setting up a VPN can be done via software or hardware.
Software: Windows Server 2012, 7, and 8 support VPN out of the box. You can also create a VPN connection with third party tools such as LogMeIn Hamachi, OpenVPN, or vyprvpn. Pricing for those programs vary depending on how many machines will be connected to the network. In general software VPNs suffice for smaller networks with fewer remote connections.
Hardware: Larger-sized VPNs such as those used by businesses benefit from dedicated hardware. Instead of managing a VPN from a server, you offload the computing to a networking device—typically a router or security appliance. In addition to reducing what could be an already taxed Windows server, hardware VPN solutions also typically include a hardware firewall, load balancing, and support for larger virtual networks.
Top-rated VPN Hardware
For consumers, many routers can be configured to create VPN networks provided their firmwares support it. For businesses with many users, we recommend high-performance VPN hardware solutions. Below, we’ve put together a list of highly-rated VPN appliances designed for organizations.
Egg Rating: 4/5 (13 reviews)
According to user reviews, this is a stable firewall appliance with simple VPN setup. It supports up to 10 IPsec VPN peers and 50 users. For a quick tutorial on how to allow remote access with the Cisco ASA, see this YouTube tutorial.
Egg Rating: 4/5 (7 reviews)
The Dell SONICWALL TZ 205 supports to up 10 VPN tunnels for office-to-office and client-to-office remote access. User reviews indicate this is a good match for offices with around 10 users but setup can be complicated. For basic SonicWALL VPN setup instructions, see this YouTube video.
Egg Rating: 4/5 (22 reviews)
The ZyXEL USG 20W supports IPSec, SSL, and L2TP protocols and up to up to five concurrent VPN tunnels. Most users like the amount of features it brings for its price, though they like the easy to set up VPN capabilities even more. However, a minority say that its documentation is sparse and setup challenging.
See all Routers & Access Points.
Setting up a VPN can be very beneficial for businesses with a mobile workforce or multiple offices. If you have any questions or tips about setting up a VPN, let us know in the comments below.