What Is OpenVPN? | An Explanation of Community Edition vs. Access Server

Community Edition vs. Access Server Explained

The OpenVPN project was founded in 2001 by James Yonan. Yonan was traveling through Central Asia, and in order to work, he had to connect remotely to his office. However, connecting through servers in countries with untrustworthy security practices gave Yonan concern about his online safety. Out of every problem comes a solution — that's when Yonan authored the original open source VPN software and titled it OpenVPN.

The OpenVPN Protocol

The OpenVPN protocol is known as the de-facto standard in the open source networking space. It supports all the major operating systems, including the desktop and mobile platforms of Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. It also supports less common platforms such as FreeBSD, QNX, Solaris, Maemo, Windows Mobile, and ChromeOS.

The OpenVPN protocol provides excellent security and is highly adaptable for third-party software. It includes 256-bit encryption (though the number of bits can be configured at any time) via OpenSSL, a widely used software library to secure connections across different networks.

OpenVPN can utilize two different protocols when transmitting data: TCP and UDP. UDP is more commonly used and the recommended choice. In scenarios where UDP is not viable, OpenVPN can rely on TCP to overcome potential network restrictions. However, TCP should only be used when strictly needed, as performance will likely degrade and you may encounter the so called "TCP meltdown" phenomena.

The OpenVPN Community Edition (Open Source)

The OpenVPN open source project, also called Community Edition (CE), is an open source Virtual Private Network project. It creates secure VPN connections over the internet using a custom security protocol that utilizes SSL/TLS. With over 50 million downloads to date, CE is a community-supported OSS (Open Source Software) project. Using a GPL license, the project has many developers and contributors from OpenVPN Inc., as well as the more extensive OpenVPN community.

Because it is open source, CE is entirely free to deploy — however, it does require a strong understanding of Linux and using the command line interface.

OpenVPN Access Server (The Enterprise Product)

OpenVPN Access Server delivers an enterprise VPN solution for businesses around the globe. With this single solution, organizations can protect data communications, secure IoT resources, and provide encrypted remote access to on-premise, hybrid, and public cloud resources.

Access Server provides a powerful and easy-to-use web-based admin site that makes VPN management and configuration simple for anybody (with or without Linux knowledge). Access Server integrates OpenVPN server capabilities, enterprise access management, and OpenVPN Client software packages that accommodate Windows, MAC, Linux, and mobile OS (Android and iOS) environments. It is available in many cloud marketplaces such as AWS, GCP, Azure, and Oracle.

The licensing model is based on the number of active VPN connections — allowing OpenVPN to provide businesses of any size with an affordable and scalable solution. OpenVPN Access Server is free to install and use for 2 simultaneous VPN connections for testing purposes.

Learn More About OpenVPN

All OpenVPN products are built on the OpenVPN protocol with the highest security standards, offering a flexible configuration to map to any network. In essence, the most significant difference is whether the sysadmin wants to configure with the command line interface or use an online web interface of Access Server.

The OpenVPN community and the OpenVPN Inc. team work together to provide a robust and transparent security product. The community is encouraged to file bug reports so developers can continue to improve the source code and produce regular updates.

Watch a replay, where we dive deeper into the differences between CE and Access Server:

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