October 15, 2012

Is your VPN holding you back?

When you are out of the office, in today’s world, getting access to your work email is easy.

You have your smartphone and tablet that allow access whilst you are on the go.

However, this does not deal with work applications such as accounting software or a CRM (eg Act!).

The most common way of accessing work applications up until now has been via a virtual private network (VPN) connection into one’s work network.

This is a connection that is made between the server and selected  and enabled devices outside of the office space using the internet.

A VPN can work well but of course there is an expense to install it (time, be it in-house time or outsourced and chargeable, plus a possible software expense).

Going forward you will always need on-going management and maintenance to keep the VPN in operation, once again, in-house or outsourced.

A VPN has its advantages but rarely do the disadvantages get a mention, though they are experienced by many.

Disadvantages of a VPN

Expertise, cost and management

One disadvantage of a VPN is the fact that its installation, management and maintenance require a high-level of knowledge and understanding of networking (linking PCs to servers and one another).

Availability and performance

Another major disadvantage is that its availability and performance are notoriously difficult to control. Typically, VPN speeds are much slower than those experienced with a traditional connection. At times, some networks appear to be a bit touch-and-go in terms of connectivity. People commonly complain about being “thrown off”.


Another disadvantage is the huge security risk that users (unwittingly) can expose their organisation’s system to when they connect to their-company network using a VPN from say a home computer. Here are some of those risks.

  • Remote workers may use their personal computers for a variety of other applications in addition to connecting to the company’s network.  If their computer is exposed to viruses, these could attach themselves to company data.
  • Workers may inadvertently allow the computer to remember their log in details for the VPN on the remote machine, hence allowing unauthorized people to access and compromise the company data.
  • A VPN does not stop the user seamlessly (and perhaps inadvertently) saving company documents to the local machine, giving way to document loss, duplication, version mismanagement.
  • For these very reasons, those responsible for security normally recommend supplying remote workers with home computers or laptops that are company-owned and used solely for approved company purposes.  So another device to purchase and manage – this itself becomes an expertise, cost and management issue.

Release the ball and chain of a VPN

With a hosted virtual desktop, as long as you have internet,  whether that is at a hotel or from a home office, you can connect to your desktop. In fact you can do this from anywhere you choose and the device doesn’t have to be pre-selected or enabled. This can be a full-blown internet connection or a 3G if there is no other option.

Once you are connected to your hosted virtual desktop, all your applications are available.

The connection to the virtual desktop is highly encrypted and secure. From public services to banks, this technology is becoming the norm.

A hosted virtual desktop is much more secure and cost-efficient way to enable access to your company’s data and applications than the VPN route. And best of all, you do not have to manage or maintain it or provide employees with laptops. In fact, this technology lends itself perfectly to BYOD (bring your own device).

If the employee’s personal computer or whichever device they use to connect to their desktop is riddled with viruses and security risks, this is not an issue. Because when you connect to your hosted desktop, no data is transferred between it and the device.

You see the hosted desktop is not actually on the machine, what you see on the computer screen is just a view of what actually is housed in a datacentre (aka the cloud

To Sum up

  • VPN is the most common way of enabling remote access to company data.
  • This is changing rapidly with the growth of virtual desktop technology.
  • VPN has expertise, cost and management implications.
  • VPN has a reputation for impaired performance (the being “thrown off’ experience).
  • VPN has security flaws that could expose company data to potential risks, often due to user inadvertence.
  • Connectivity via VPN can only be from designated and enabled machines.
  • To protect company security, companies are recommended to provide employees with company owned and managed PCs or laptops for VPN use.
  • None of the above apply to hosted virtual desktops;  you do not need to enable the device, nor do you have to manage them, nor do you have to worry about the security issues in that the data is not on the machine but safe in a datacentre.  No data has been transferred – the device (any device will do!)  is simply a tool to view and access.

So do you think a VPN will always work for you and your company? Or could a hosted desktop simplify the way you gain access to your company network outside of the office?

Leave your comments below.

Jo Radcliffe

Jo Radcliffe

Co-Founder of 404 team Ltd who is passionate about bringing colour, clarity and budget-ability to businesses' experience of IT.

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