If you’re trying to understand the concept of a site-to-site VPN and whether it’s suitable for your business, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will explain how site-to-site VPNs have evolved over time, how they function, and how to choose between site-to-site VPNs and other business VPN options available in the market.
Initially, VPNs were designed to connect remote offices or workers to a company’s local-area network (LAN). Even today, corporate VPNs continue to serve the primary purpose of providing secure remote access to private company resources.
Personal vs. Corporate VPN – What’s the difference?
But what distinguishes personal VPNs from corporate VPNs? Personal VPNs are consumer-oriented VPN services designed for individuals seeking a secure and anonymous internet experience. By masking your location and IP address, you can download torrents anonymously, access geoblocked content, and protect your devices when using public Wi-Fi, among other things.
However, personal VPNs do not fulfill the needs of businesses, which require a network that can store and transfer sensitive data securely. Site-to-site VPN is just one type of corporate VPN available today. In this article, we’ll outline the fundamental concepts of site-to-site VPNs and compare them to other corporate VPN options, enabling you to select the most appropriate solution for your business.
What is a site-to-site VPN?
A site-to-site VPN is a type of VPN that allows businesses with multiple offices or locations to create secure connections between the LANs at these sites via the internet. By doing so, a site-to-site VPN allows employees at one location to access computer resources at another location, effectively extending the company’s network.
This makes it an attractive option for growing corporations with branch offices around the world. There are two main methods for establishing a site-to-site VPN: the Internet VPN method and the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPN method. The main difference between the two methods is in the type of connections they use and whether the virtual tunneling is performed by the company’s network or the VPN provider’s network.
Guide to Creating an Internet-Based and MPLS Site-to-Site VPN
To establish an internet-based site-to-site VPN, a VPN gateway is needed at both sites, such as the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA). This method makes use of a company’s existing network and the public internet infrastructure. The VPN gateway encrypts outbound data traffic, sends it through a VPN tunnel, and the receiving peer VPN gateway decrypts the content and relays the data onto the office’s LAN.
Creating an MPLS Site-to-Site VPN
On the other hand, MPLS is a newer way of creating a site-to-site VPN that connects to a carrier-provided MPLS cloud instead of the public internet. In this method, the VPN provider creates virtual connections between a company’s office sites across the provider’s MPLS network.
MPLS VPNs offer optimal network performance and are suitable for bandwidth-intensive and delay-sensitive applications like video conferencing and VoIP. However, MPLS VPNs can be expensive, particularly for international connections.
Advantages of Site-to-Site VPNs for Organizations
Site-to-site VPNs offer several advantages for organizations of any size, including:
Improved Data Security: Site-to-site VPNs provide excellent data security as information is encrypted when traveling between gateways, making it indecipherable if intercepted by malicious actors.
Efficient Resource Sharing: A site-to-site VPN allows employees in different locations to safely access sensitive data and communicate, facilitating collaboration and coordination in dispersed teams.
Easy Onboarding: Site-to-site VPNs do not rely on a client/server model, eliminating the need for users to install specific software on their devices. This simplifies onboarding and ensures that everyone can benefit from the enhanced data security, regardless of their device compatibility with VPN software.
Limitations of site-to-site VPNs
Site-to-site VPNs come with limitations that may make them unsuitable for some businesses. Here are some of these limitations:
Unsuited for remote work
With the trend of remote work on the rise, employees work from home or coworking spaces where there is no access to a designated VPN gateway. This means that employees who work remotely or freelancers who do not have physical access to the sites connected to the VPN may not be able to use it.
Limited security and privacy
Despite having secure VPN protocols, a site-to-site VPN only encrypts data as it moves between gateways. This means that the local area networks (LANs) on either side of the gateways may not be safe from cybercriminals and snoopers. As a result, information can be exposed after decryption and delivery to specific devices on a site. Client/server VPNs, on the other hand, usually encrypt data traveling to and from individual client-installed devices.
Decentralized deployment and management
Companies prefer VPN solutions that can be deployed and managed centrally. Centralized management simplifies technical troubleshooting and enhances security. However, with site-to-site VPNs, different teams in different sites set them up and maintain them, making centralized management difficult.
Determining if a Site-to-Site VPN is Suitable for Your Business
Creating and maintaining a site-to-site VPN requires significant financial and human resources, regardless of the configuration method used. Therefore, before investing in a site-to-site VPN, it is crucial to determine whether it is suitable for your business.
Typically, businesses enlist the services of a business security solutions company, such as Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, or Checkpoint, to set up their site-to-site VPN as part of a comprehensive security package.
When deciding whether a site-to-site VPN is appropriate for your company, several factors must be considered, including the size of the business, the number of locations, the geographical spread of locations, and the resource-sharing requirements.
If your business has multiple locations, and employees at each location require access to resources at the central office, deploying a site-to-site VPN should be considered.
An Illustration of a Company Requiring a Site-to-Site VPN
Suppose a consulting firm headquartered in London decides to expand its operations and open branch offices in Tel-Aviv, Beijing, and New York. At each branch, 10 to 20 employees need access to shared resources, including a file server and email, located at the central office.
One solution is to employ a dedicated connection from each branch location. However, since each site’s network needs are relatively small, this approach is not cost-effective.
Alternatively, the company can purchase local internet connections and create an internet-based site-to-site VPN that connects the different locations. Although setting up and maintaining the VPN incurs significant costs, it is still more cost-efficient than using dedicated connections for all locations, saving the company thousands of dollars each month.
What are the alternatives to a site-to-site VPN?
There are several alternatives to site-to-site VPNs that can be more practical and convenient for small- and medium-sized businesses with multiple locations or remote workers. The most popular alternatives are remote-access VPNs, SD-WAN VPNs, cloud VPNs, and business VPN plans from consumer VPN providers.
Remote-access VPNs allow employees to access their company’s LAN from anywhere in the world by installing VPN client software or using a web-based VPN client. Although they may compromise speed and network performance, they are a more cost-effective choice for organizations with only a few employees.
SD-WAN VPNs separate networking hardware from its control mechanism and combine the cost benefits of internet-based site-to-site VPNs with the performance and agility of MPLS VPNs. They are suitable for organizations that use a growing number of cloud-based applications.
Cloud VPNs provide businesses with VPN access to their private cloud resources via the internet. They are ideal for organizations whose business LAN environment or day-to-day business applications have moved to the cloud.
Business VPN plan
Business VPN plans from consumer VPN providers offer remote-access VPN functionality, improved security for employee devices, end-to-end data encryption, and secure access to cloud applications. They are a cost-effective option for small and mid-sized businesses with just a few locations.
There are two primary types of site-to-site VPN that operate differently.
Intranet site-to-site VPN connects multiple sites securely via encrypted gateways. This setup is ideal for expanding a corporate network to multiple LANs as discussed earlier.
Extranet site-to-site VPN, on the other hand, also establishes a VPN connection between sites, but it restricts access for each site. An extranet VPN network could be utilized if a company wanted to collaborate with another organization on a particular project by sharing resources. This approach makes only specific files and resources available to the other site.
VPN is a term that encompasses various systems, including site-to-site VPNs primarily used as a corporate network solution, and remote access VPNs which are often preferred by individual consumers.
A VPN can cause a reduction in internet speed, but a high-quality VPN should have such a small impact that it is hardly noticeable. Premium VPN services are designed to allow data to pass through the VPN quickly, so your internet experience should not be negatively affected.
In summary, a site-to-site VPN provides secure connectivity between separated LANs, but it can be expensive for small and medium-sized businesses. There are alternative VPN solutions available such as remote-access VPN, SD-WAN VPN, cloud VPN, and business VPN plans from consumer VPN providers.
Choosing the best VPN technology for your organization depends on various factors, but having a comprehensive security plan with a VPN is crucial in today’s world where corporate data is frequently transmitted across different locations, devices, and the cloud. Implementing a reliable business VPN can significantly reduce the risk of data exposure and network hacking, while also minimizing downtime.