Don’t believe the naysayers. Those sensationalist headlines telling you that the VPN is dead are just plain wrong. The VPN is very much alive. And very much a necessity for any organization that needs to give employees remote access to corporate resources.
The key distinction is that VPNs are evolving. The ones that most people are familiar with are the old-school hardware-based VPNs built decades ago when employees sat in office buildings. Those solutions weren’t designed with remote work in mind and couldn’t provide IT teams with much information about device or network usage. These are the VPNs that are dying.
Modern, truly mobile-enabled VPNs are a different breed altogether. With so many people expected to continue working from home even after restrictions are lifted, many organizations are in the process of re-evaluating their remote access solutions. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for a replacement.
Standardization is key when it comes to networking products. For example, if some of your employees have Mac devices but your VPN vendor can’t support them, it really doesn’t matter what other bells and whistles the VPN comes with. Why add complexity to your network by introducing multiple solutions for each use-case? Find a comprehensive solution that’s compatible with all of your hardware and software. Not just for your current needs, but for the future, too. That means Android and iOS as well as Windows and MacOS, even if you don’t have an immediate need for a VPN on those devices.
If a vendor claims to have full support on mobile devices such as Android smartphones, make sure it is truly native and not just shoe-horned onto the device.
As many companies discovered recently, scalability is critical as demand changes. With a hardware-based VPN, growth and bandwidth require more devices. Many companies end up paying for two appliances because of their active-passive set-up. Organizations are naturally risk-averse, meaning that they don’t want to operate any systems that potentially have a single point of failure. Consequently, to get around the sudden demand for bandwidth they’re saddled with more equipment that they hadn’t budgeted for.
Imagine that your company is growing. You may quickly outpace the physical (or virtual) hardware that you’re using. Look for commodity-based solutions built on something like Windows servers so that you can have almost infinite scalability, allowing me to spool up any number of servers depending on the need. In the same way, NetMotion gives customers the option of à la carte or all-you-can-eat, without huge investments in additional equipment or support licensing – plus you can be up and running in a very short period of time.
Most of the legacy VPN providers are moving to hybrid cloud solutions, although for now it appears that these options are extremely limited and clunky in their implementation, so buyers: beware. When it comes to VPNs and hardware, the best advice is to stay away.
A low initial price tag can quickly add up to an enormous total cost of ownership once you start factoring in upgrades, resource overheads and scaling. Consider that many platforms require dedicated administrators with specialized skill sets who may be in short supply. Not to mention the fact that hardware takes time to order, install, and get up and running.
The burden on medium-sized companies is the greatest. They face considerable IT needs, but they often have limited IT staff. They usually don’t have the resources to pay for outsourcing, which would mean even greater cost.
Other things to consider
Device support, scalability and infrastructure are the three most important considerations, but there are a couple more things to keep in mind.
User experience – IT doesn’t want to implement tools that cause a heavy lift or that need a lot of end-user intervention or interaction, and they certainly don’t want something that the entire workforce is going to complain about. Ideally, they want the solution to be almost invisible to the user, but accessible to IT for visibility and security purposes. Users also just want their devices to work, no matter what network or operating system they’re using. If this is an area that is important to your organization, something like NetMotion provides seamless reliability for admins and end users.
Customer support is often overlooked, but it should be a critical part of your decision. During a POC, contact your customer support. How long does it take them to respond? How many people did you have to talk to? Was their recommendation useful and accurate? Remember, if the vendor isn’t able to adequately support you when they’re on their best behavior, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get the level of support you need when it’s crunch time.