What Is A VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides your business with a securely encrypted internet connection to your private network over the public internet. VPN protection is an important piece of a layered security protocol that’s essential to protecting company data as well as an employee's personal data. Using a VPN service gives you the ability to remotely access important network resources and connect your company’s branches and locations worldwide.

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Another benefit of using a VPN provider is that a VPN prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from logging websites you visit — it encrypts your internet traffic so your ISP doesn't know where or what you're browsing. (or, to put it another way, it keeps your ISP from snooping on your private internet activity.) Your ISP will only know when you connect to a VPN server's Internet Protocol address (IP address) and the amount of bandwidth used. It's important to note that not all internet service providers can detect VPN use. Check your internet service provider’s privacy policies to understand what they can and cannot see.

So what is a VPN, exactly? Let’s find out.

Network basics

The above diagram is a simplified example of a basic small business local network. Mobile devices use a wireless access point for access. Hard-wired devices such as PCs, printers, and copiers, connect directly over a switch. On-site employees have internet access, as well as access to resources from network and database servers. Unauthorized incoming traffic is blocked by the firewall. This limits network resources to internal use. When employees use another network (e.g., a branch office, public WiFi hotspots) not physically in the same building, that’s where a business VPN comes in.

What does VPN stand for?

"VPN" is a commonly used term, but even if we know the words it stands for, do we understand what it means? 

As mentioned above, VPN stands for virtual private network.

Your business protects its data by storing it within your private Network. This may be a server or computers on-premises, or you may pay for cloud-hosted services. Or, to put it another way, if your network isn’t secured, the data that lives on it isn’t secure, either. 

When you use a secure VPN, you can extend that private Network, making it virtual. Remote workers, those at another branch office, vendors, etc. are then able to securely connect to your network by using VPN connections while maintaining online privacy. None of these connections are directly wired like the ones in the network diagram above, where cables run from your network switch to company devices. Nor are they close enough to your wireless access point to connect using Wi-Fi. Instead, they utilize the Internet -- often public WiFi networks -- to connect to your network. This can be done safely, continuing to keep your online activity private, with encrypted connections. Through a VPN, packets are sent over the internet through an encrypted tunnel. This encrypted VPN tunnel makes it appear as though you are directly connected to the private network, keeping your online activity (including your browsing history) hidden.

The above diagram shows a basic network with a remote worker connected securely over an encrypted tunnel through OpenVPN Access Server. Once connected, the remote worker can use an internet connection to securely access other devices, the database server, and the printer / copier, exactly as though they were in the office. The firewall is configured to allow incoming, secure connections to the VPN server destination. Now, the worker is virtually a part of the private network with access to internal resources.

How a VPN Works

A VPN connection secures your internet connection when you work off-site (e.g., coffee shop, hotel, airport, or even a different country). It routes all of your network traffic through an encrypted tunnel via the VPN. Routing the network traffic disguises your IP address when using the internet, replacing it with the location and an IP address from the VPN server making its location invisible. A VPN connection also secures against external breaches.

Two common types of business VPN setups:

OpenVPN products support endless configuration options. Businesses of all sizes use OpenVPN Cloud or OpenVPN Access Server to set up the exact access and granularity that they need for their company. While there are far too many options for us to show all the setups available, we can provide you with an overview of two common setups: remote access and site-to-site.

Remote Access

Connecting employees to the private network from various remote locations.

VPN Server

Grant and control access with your VPN server hosted on the private network.

VPN Client Apps

Securely connect with the secure VPN server using clients (a.k.a. vpn app) on user computers and mobile devices. Business VPNs should support a variety of operating systems (Microsoft Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux).

What is remote access and why would it benefit my business? Read details about it here: Remote Access VPN

Site-to-site VPN 

Connecting multiple, fixed sites (branches, offices, etc.) over a public network.

Intranet VPN 

Connecting remote and main offices.

Extranet VPN 

Connecting partners or customers with the main office.

What is site-to-site and why would it benefit my business? Read details about it here: Site-to-site VPN

The difference between cloud and on-premises VPN setups:

Cloud computing might be the best new thing for small businesses. Your access to technology is simply a matter of choosing the right service contract. Many traditional desktop applications are disappearing as cloud adoption soars. Software vendors aren’t boxing up their product to place it on the shelves at office store chains anymore. Instead, a small business can purchase an online, subscription-based product based on the features that they need, scaling up or down accordingly.

Pros and cons of cloud and on-premises servers:

On-Premise Servers

Low upfront costs for small businessesYour network bandwidth determines VPN bandwidth
Critical data stored on-siteMore prone to data loss in emergency situations
Easy to grant access to on-premises dataNo uptime guarantees
Low monthly or annual cost for licensesRequires hardware, infrastructure, and IT support

Cloud Servers

No Capital ExpenseService contract can become expensive
Only pay for what you needThird-party involved
Easy to scale up or down as company grows and adjustsMay be complicated configuration for granular access control
Data backed up regularly and consistent uptimesMust be very aware of third-party security risks based on how vendor handles data

What is a VPN in the cloud?

Those are the pros and cons of cloud and on-prem VPNs, but what exactly is CloudConnexa?

CloudConnexa is a managed service that provides secure networking, over the internet, between private networks and remote users via a “Private Network in the Cloud.” Our multi-tenant cloud service has a high-performing mesh core network spread across multiple countries and offers multiple regional server locations worldwide. CloudConnexa extends the value of your existing technology, teams, and strategies with smarter deployment. Built-in business-centric features include:

  • Easy Setup No servers required and no waiting for provisioning 
  • More Control Smart, integrated connectors that enable traffic routing either on-prem or in the cloud, based on your unique requirements
  • Flexible Integration Connect to any ecosystem — AWS, GCP, Azure, or others — seamlessly, no matter where your current infrastructure resides
  • Efficient Scalability Manage and configure network resources, with comprehensive visibility and control, via a single web portal
  • IDS/IPS and Content Filtering Includes Cyber Shield, an easy-to-use, customizable feature that secures remote access
  • Kill Switch OpenVPN Connect App Kill Switch feature blocks any data leakage via the network in the event of a dropped VPN connection

Learn more about the features and functionality of next-gen CloudConnexa, and activate three free connections, here.

What are VPN protocols?

There are five types of VPN protocols: 

  1. Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
  2. Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP/IPSec)
  3. OpenVPN
  4. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
  5. Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2)

Each protocol has unique specifications based on priorities (e.g., throughput speed, masking/encryption) that dictate how data is routed through a connection.

Benefits of Business VPN Services

Still not sure if your business should provide a VPN? Here are some more benefits to consider.

With a VPN service you can:

  • Extend geographic connections: branches and offices can connect to each other, no matter their location.
  • Enable hybrid and remote workforces to securely access company networks, data, and apps on public Wi-Fi. 
  • Enjoy low network infrastructure costs: purchasing an OpenVPN subscription for OpenVPN Access Server is cost-effective and based on the number of VPN connections
  • Save on travel costs for your remote workforce: provide virtual connections to the network for your off-site users.
  • Increase your productivity: provide access to the network 24/7 so employees can work outside of the typical 9-5 business hours.
  • Access global networking: Easily support a global workforce, provide security for your data and expand your hiring pool.
  • See better ROI than traditional WAN: save on the expensive costs of expanding your network using solutions such as WAN.
  • Gain security and privacy: a VPN is an important piece of the must-have layered security for every business operating in our hyper-connected market.
  • Scale simply and efficiently: easily add more VPN connections as your business expands.
  • Reduce the risk of DNS hijacking via router vulnerabilities: Prevent fraudsters from gaining direct access to your company’s router, altering the router’s settings, then rerouting your traffic to compromised DNS servers.
  • Thwart attempts to infect a device with malware trojans that overtake the company DNS settings and redirect the user to a malicious outside DNS server. 

For an in-depth look at selecting a business VPN, read Choosing The Best VPN Service. Employees may already be VPN users -- consumer VPNs like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, and Private Internet Access are popular for accessing Netflix, Amazon Video, and other streaming services -- but both you and your users will appreciate the added security and privacy of an enterprise VPN. 

Overview of OpenVPN for Business

Open source OpenVPN uses VPN technologies to secure and encrypt data sent over the internet. Its custom VPN protocol uses SSL/TLS for key exchange. Since its creation in 2001 it has become the de facto standard in the open source networking space with over 60 million downloads. 

OpenVPN Access Server and CloudConnexa are our business VPN products — we built them with you in mind. You can afford the industry-standard VPN technology to secure your business data. And no matter the size of your business, with our licensing model, you can implement an affordable solution — one that doesn’t require diving into Linux command lines if you don’t want to. And one that doesn’t require purchasing and maintaining expensive hardware.

OpenVPN Access Server and CloudConnexa provide your business with security and encryption you can easily manage with a simple, intuitive, and even beautiful (if we can brag) web interface. Everything can be managed from your own Admin Web UI that launches with your Access Server, or from the online portal for CloudConnexa.

Built on the transparency and security of open source, you can expect the best from OpenVPN products, securing your business data and communications. And you can get started today — with two free VPN connections. You don’t need to put down an initial investment or sign up for a free trial that expires within a month. You can take all the time you want to test out your configuration before deciding to purchase a subscription.

Ready to see how easy it is to launch OpenVPN products for your business? Let’s get to it!

CloudConnexa — The Next-Gen VPN for Business

Use Case Examples for OpenVPN Access Server

A great way to better understand “What is a VPN?” can sometimes be to see exactly how other businesses have benefited from OpenVPN business VPN products. Feel free to hop over to these case studies to do just that:

  • DevSquad securely connected their remote workforce and enabled two-factor authentication for all clients and employees.
  • Softech needed fast, reliable, and affordable connections to support their customers.
  • CranstonIT deployed a solution for secure access to their Software Licensing Server.
  • HVAC Elements Group used a business VPN to support their mobile workforce.
  • REDspace replaced a Windows-based VPN solution with the flexibility of OpenVPN.
  • A geospatial Company provided secure access to imported internal resources.
  • Sirius Computer Solutions granted authenticated access to their private network behind the firewall.
  • Hart BR set up secure, seamless access to their Communications Server.

With the two free connections provided through OpenVPN Access Server, you can set up your own solution and test it without paying a thing. After that, it’s easy to add VPN connections to support your needs, once you determine if the configuration is the right fit for your business.

Launch Your business VPN — Now