An introduction to Virtual Private Networks for your business

So all your ducks are in a row. You have a brand-new laptop armed with a mobile network and wireless connectivity. Thus, you can enjoy all the benefits of your office IT system while sitting on the 8.15 to Victoria. Well, you’re almost there, but not quite. To complete the technological jigsaw, you will also need a virtual private network or VPN.

Ask a technician to describe a VPN and the chances he will scratch his head, think for a minute and then say something along the lines of: “A VPN is a kind of private tunnel through the public internet, enabling remote users to connect to their office applications securely.”

If that sounds complicated, the good news is that from the user’s point of view, a VPN connection couldn’t be simpler. You log onto the internet from a remote location – using either a landline, mobile connection or WiFi hotspot – key in a URL, enter a password and username and heypresto, you have full access to the office network. The software – usually supplied by an internet service provider (ISP) – does the rest and ensures that the connection is secure, whether enabled by wireless or fixed-line networks.

The costs can be bundled as part of your ISP service. For instance, Alan Ryan of business ISP Easynet cites costs of £27 per user (home ADSL access, plus VPN functionality) a month, plus a £1,500-a-year connection fee for the business itself, again with connectivity and VPN included.

If security is a particular issue you can upgrade from standard VPN to a system known as MPLS in which your data is routed not across the public internet but through a telecoms company or ISP’s own network. As Ryan explains, “MPLS is more secure and you can prioritise the data running across it. For instance, you could give voice data more bandwidth than email data. You can’t do that with ordinary VPN.

Source: Accessing email remotely

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