December 3, 2013
by Joe Borda
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow businesses the ability to allow remote employees and vendors access into their private network when outside of its physical boundaries. Utilizing the Internet for leverage, VPNs connect a remote client into the private network as if they are physically connected to an internal switch. Once connected, the client workstation receives an internal private address and can access applications, file shares, and printers normally restricted to local access networks. Many different types of VPN connectivity solutions exist today that offer a range of features and security, but why would a business considering a VPN solution?
Connecting Remote Sites
VPN tunnels not only allow individual workstations to connect into the network, they can also allow entire remote locations to access the LAN. In doing so, a VPN connection between two sites essentially creates a WAN to allow two networks, in two separate physical locations, to communicate.
For example, assume a small business is opening a new location across the street. The owners want the primary customer database server to stay at the original location, yet be accessible by its new location as well. One option would be to have a physical cable connection run across the street from one building to the next. This option is costly and could prove to be insecure or unreliable. A solution utilizing a VPN tunnel would be more cost effective, more secure, and more reliable. Each location would most likely already have a connection to the Internet. Utilizing a VPN connectivity device, such as a firewall or software solution, the two buildings can be connected via a VPN tunnel that communicated via these Internet connections. Doing so will create a logical connection between the two location, over the Internet, and allow devices within the two buildings to communicate as if they are physically connected. Imagine this same solution being used on a larger scale by nationwide or even global companies, and you can see how VPN tunnels allow large corporations to interlink their local connections together into a single private network.
The physical workplace may be common to many workers today but the number of remote workers is growing. These employees are working from home (or any Internet enabled location) utilizing VPN connections into a central database. Instead of entire buildings being interconnected, these employees are connecting directly from a VPN client on their laptop or smartphone into the company’s private network. In doing so, the employee gains the benefit of working from home while still having access to every aspect of the network as if working inside the physical company building. In return, businesses are seeing a reduction in the cost of overhead. No longer must office space be purchased or leased to house workers during business hours. This also reduces their electrical, heating, and office supply bills.
Similarly, VPNs allow companies to create a broader disaster recovery plan by deploying VPN client enabled laptops to their employees if a disaster occurs. Essentially, if a company experiences a disaster where a location offline or companies cannot report for a length of time, a VPN connection can be utilized to replace their physical reliance of the workplace. A VPN tunnel connection could also a lifesaver when vendor access is needed. If a vendor must be onsite to simply control or view the screen of a computer or server, a VPN tunnel could be utilized instead to allow the vendor to connect remotely. This could bring the company a quicker solution and save the cost of vendors traveling to an on-site location.
VPN connections offer a secure method to companies who must connect remote locations or wish to reduce the overhead of a physical workplace. As the technology progresses and more benefits are found, VPN tunnels could become the primary method employees utilize to connect into a private WAN.
VPN Connection Options
Two primary technologies exist today to connect to a remote network utilizing: SSL and IPSEC. Both over a secure means to accessing internal networks remotely; however, they differ on how the connection is established. IPSEC establishes a secure connection utilizing software installed on the client PC. The client software establishes the connection to the remote VPN server. This authentication can be through Active Directory credentials or through a shared passphrase. Unlike the client-based IPSEC, SSL connection can be established through an Internet browser. This makes the VPN connection more manageable as a user does not need to install any software to connect. Utilizing the web- based client, a remote user can access the SSL VPN server device over any compatible browser.