VPN or remote access? There are advantages to both technologies. But for an increasing number of businesses, the latter makes more sense — not just in one area, but for an expanding range of tasks.
Understand just how remote access can answer the weaknesses of the Virtual Private Network, and you’ll keep your security strict and your people productive. This blog takes a high-level look at the pros and cons of using a VPN, and gives you the insights you need to become a VIP of the C-Suite.
The competing philosophies
VPNs and remote access applications come from different cultures. A Virtual Private Network answered the major problem of security when work started going nomadic: road warriors and weekend workers needing access to corporate data outside the office. By setting up a logical network on top of a physical one — separated from other data by encryption — people could get their work done as if they were in the office, without worrying that the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi was opening their private files up to the world.
Remote access achieves the same goal, but with a different approach. Devices don’t connect to a network, but to a specific device. That device can be another worker’s laptop, their own desktop at the office, or the corporate server — in other words, much the same flexibility as a VPN.
The difference in the remote access model is that each connecting device isn’t on a network; it’s visiting the device it wants to share data and applications with, and can use both of those natively, on the distant machine.
That’s a big advantage of remote access — and exposes some weaknesses of the VPN model. Here are a few more:
1. Culture of ownership: company property versus BYOD
As bring your own device (BYOD) takes over the world, it’s exposed a weakness of the traditional VPN. Born in a culture where the IT department and data center reigned supreme, many were designed with the assumption all devices connected to the corporate server would be owned by the company, with the set of applications and data on them strictly controlled. That’s no longer the case.
At least 36% of American offices use BYOD. Some workplaces actually require it.
If a VPN grants credentials to every smartphone, every home laptop, and every family PC owned by its employees, the risk to data security rises dramatically. That’s because you’re giving an unknown quantity — the device — the keys to the kingdom. And if there’s malware lurking on the hard disk, it can run amok.
Remote access, on the contrary, is safer by design. When you’re connecting to a data source or application with remote access, you’re not using your local device; you’re using the remote one virtually. With the risks of infection far lower.
2. Startup culture: problems in the setup
VPNs, of course, are virtual networks. And any network takes time and expertise to set up and administer. That’s why even today, some VPNs are notoriously hard to get rolling. You’ve got to configure individual devices in different ways, using ports and protocols not commonly used. Much of the time, VPN software can’t be installed by end users: it’s a system administrator’s job.
Even “easy” VPNs take time to administer — and some public networks don’t allow them.
Most remote access software, again by contrast, is simply an application that facilitates a connection via the same application on another device. One download, one install, and with the right credentials, the user is ready to go.
3. Growth culture: trouble at scale
As networks, VPNs tend to take resources back at head office. They need servers, constant maintenance, and oversight by skilled support staff. VPNs were, after all, conceived as industrial-strength networks for the enterprise. That means they’re less suited to fast-moving, nimble SMBs.
VPNs require a detailed understanding of network technicalities.
Remote access is famously easy to scale. Because adding one device to the platform doesn’t increase network resource usage. The bulk of computing power needed is on the devices themselves, and most remote access solutions ask very little system resource. This lets remote access scale without a higher ask on infrastructure, making it great for smaller businesses with big ambitions.
4. Culture of simplicity: empowering users
Last in our little list comes simplicity. VPNs are complex by design. In fact, they’re supposed to be complicated; it’s one way to dissuade hackers and crackers. But complexity, as always, carries a cost. Fortunately, it’s not one you need to pay.
VPNs are most popular in countries with restrictive laws, where users have an incentive.
The best remote access software is a great user experience, or UX. It’s simple and intuitive enough to be installed and used by employees with minimal instruction or training. Because it’s user-centered: the functions it offers — like screen sharing, video chat, collaborative documents — are of benefit to the employee directly, not there for the convenience of the system administrator.
We’re not saying VPNs are wrong for every company. Just that these four weaknesses exist — and the faster and nimbler you want to be, the less a VPN represents your perfect choice.
But if you take the plunge into remote access, you’ll find many of the VPN weaknesses can be sidestepped. So why not step into the world of remote desktop software, and turn the C-Suite into your VIP Suite?
- VPNs and remote access software come from different cultures — and decades.
- Two devices connecting securely takes away many of the hassles of a VPN.
- Remote access software is user-centered, whereas VPNs are for the IT expert.
- When resource usage is minimal, scaling up becomes a lot easier.
- Security is needed for the device as well as the user.
- Encryption is just one part of the security story.
Ready to become a VIP? Use this VPN alternative from TeamViewer.