How exactly does a virtual private network (VPN) work? Can it be used to provide you with some business advantage? Businesses have become increasingly more complex in recent years. Today even the smallest businesses have to be prepared to operate in a global environment and that can frequently mean needing to communicate across large distances and even multiple borders.

All of this needs to be accomplished in a cost effective way, without offering the chance of compromising data, especially if staff are scattered across different locations are to be able to collaborate effectively. We’ve pulled together a high level view of VPN technology and how it can work for you.

What Exactly is a VPN

Networks are not new to the business world and most organisations now have secure private networks, often called intranets, that allow them to deliver data and services to their employees. Things begin to get a bit more complicated when an organizations staff is spread across multiple locations. Private networks between locations are possible but very expensive. The internet offers cheap communications but data security is an issue. A VPN can be used across the publicly available internet to link two locations into one network without compromising data or security. Businesses get the benefit of one network resource for much lower costs.

Remote Access VPNs

Getting into your organisations network can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your security requirements a virtual private dial up network can be suitable. This type of technology is particularly useful when your staff travelling away from the office but need to access data and applications. You can use your ISP to set up a remote access VPN that is then used by staff as they travel.

Site to Site VPN

Businesses can solve many of the challenges associated with multi-site operations by using site to site VPN technology. Dedicated equipment, located at each site, connects the sites via the internet. The internet offers businesses a relatively low cost way of joining sites and VPN technology means those site can be securely joined together over the public internet. Sites networked together in this way offer considerable cost savings over the traditional leased line offerings.

A site to site offering also allows an organisation to restrict access to data and services to employees only by creating an intranet and by using the same technology in a slightly different way, customers and suppliers can be given access to resources over an extranet. In both cases, the same VPN technology is used.

The Benefits of a VPN

The internet is a widely available means of communicating between locations easily and in most cases very cheaply. A well implemented VPN offers businesses many benefits. They can provide connectivity across international border and time zones using the internet to keep costs very low. Compared with older technologies such as Wide Area Networks they drive improvements in productivity for much lower costs.

Modern businesses are looking to reduce fixed costs by providing opportunities for home working without incurring expensive network costs and VPN technology, combined with the internet is a great enabler here. Travelling time and costs can be reduced by removing the need to travel for important business meetings and simplified networks become cheaper to manage ensuring businesses see earlier returns of their investment.

What to Look Out For in a VPN

Low cost access from one location to another using the internet is of little use to any business if the data transmitted over the network can’t be secured? Encryption technologies are widely used to deliver that security.

IPsec or Internet Protocol Security is a software solution that provides data security by authenticating each packet (think little chunk) and then encrypting it using encryption technologies that were once the preserve of the military.

PPTPE OR Point to Point Tunnelling Protocol is another popular technology used to create VPNs. It is widley used as it ships with Microsoft products where it is labelled as Microsoft Point to Point Encryption

L2TP/Ipsec or Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol is the software technology that is implemented hand in hand with PPTE to ensure that data is encrypted.

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