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Virtual Private Network (VPN) and its limitations

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Matthew Thompson
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Many users find the benefits outweigh the costs of Virtual Private Networks, however there are a few disadvantages inherent to VPNs include security, performance and complexity. Organisations should objectively consider these limitations and take them into account, as they can translate into hidden costs.

The limitations of a VPN service

At first glance, there appear to be many business advantages to running VPNs – business mobility, scalability and a reduction in telecommunication costs. The following article compares traditional Virtual Private Network technologies with newer Private MPLS networks (known as Secure Private Networks).

VPN and security

VPNs are flexible; companies are able to connect many locations, both locally and overseas using this technology. However, if the VPN is not configured and managed correctly, serious security issues can arise. Despite the popularity of VPNs, there are security risks if stringent procedures are not followed. Based on the fact that security is a major concern for businesses, this implies significant risks.

Tips for securing your VPN include:

  • Using secure authentication methods with strong passwords. Passwords should be longer than eight characters and containing a mixture of upper case and lower case letters, as well as numbers.
  • Change your passwords on a regular basis; at least every two months. System administrators should be able to set passwords to expire after a certain period.
  • Use a minimum of 256-bit encryption or as strong a type of the Advanced Encryption Standard as your internet speed will allow. The higher the encryption, the longer the time required for that type of encryption to complete.

Exposure risks with VPNs

By utilising the public internet and using it to form a private tunnel, VPNs are vulnerable to security breaches, performance degradation and network failures. In contrast, Private MPLS networks protect against online and external threats as traffic is independent of the internet and utilises the service provider’s own network, which is entirely segregated for your business’ exclusive use. Your business data will never traverse the internet.

VPN reliability & availability

A significant disadvantage, especially for large businesses, is that the reliability of an organisation’s VPN is outside their direct control due to the fact it uses the internet. In contrast, Secure Private Networks (SPN) provide guaranteed performance and availability for business-critical operations. In addition, a SPN also provides the advantages of centralised control; therefore an MPLS (MultiProtocol Label Switching) based private IP network dramatically reduces complexity and removes the need for additional skilled engineers.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN and performance

In contrast to traditional Private Networks, VPNs are only as fast as the slowest internet connection between two end-points. Unpredictable internet performance creates disruption and inconvenience. Moreover, with the increasing use of real-time and interactive applications, network performance issues with VPNs become much more noticeable.

Complexity and incompatibility

VPNs work using equipment from many different manufacturers, which all too often work poorly together. The incompatibility of equipment from different vendors can have the effect of making things more complex. Your business may need to employ additional network engineers to configure and administrate these devices, all of which may make the VPN solution more costly to implement and maintain.

VPN Quality of Service (QoS)

VPNs do not offer complete guarantees. In addition, packet loss is variable and can be very high. Unlike VPNs, MPLS-based Secure Private Networks provide solutions to these problems, with much greater redundancy and scalability.

As the curiosity and demand for private network solutions has increased, concerns have been raised over the limitations of VPN-based solutions. With the evolution of Private MPLS networks over the past decade, the availability and associated costs have reduced the original appeal of VPNs.

As outlined above, a Private MPLS solution will provide better performance, enhanced reliability and the ability to run QoS over the network. Unless you require the ability to connect to your company’s LAN while travelling internationally, or you view price as a greater priority than performance, the benefits of a Private MPLS-based Secure Private IP Solution, outweigh those of a VPN.

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About Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson
Matt joined GCOMM in 1999 in a Sales and Strategic Accounts role. He recently relocated to Sydney, where he handles strategic relationships with both clients and vendors. He has a Business degree in Marketing and Management from Griffith University. Matt regularly represents GCOMM at various conferences, forums and business awards.