VPNs (virtual private networks) have been around for a good while (A technology first introduced by a Microsoft employee in 1996). Every technology has a lifecycle, and VPN technology is no different. VPN evolution has taken place over the years, adapting to the networks that have been shaped by broadband connectivity, the cloud and mobility, as well as the endpoint devices themselves.
VPN Overload and Problems Working at Home
“No problem, we’ll buy more VPN licenses ?”
Around the 23rd March 2020, most of the UK’s workforce woke up to suddenly find they were now required to work from home, perhaps indefinitely! Lots of companies suddenly found themselves using apps like Microsoft Teams and other collaboration tools, to effectively stay connected with their workforce and their customers. This led to VPN Overload! I know of one major UK employer who suddenly found they needed circa 40K extra VPN Licenses. The problem lies not in the surge of traffic, which by Internet standards was not huge, but the fact that most organisation’s internal networks cannot cope with the spike in simultaneous usage and the latency requirements of the aforementioned collaboration tools. Most VPN’s are just not built or designed to optimise applications and support the myriad of different devices being used at home.
This leads us to the next problem, your home network! Let’s be honest, most home Internet connectivity and the Wi-Fi network isn’t going to be up to the standard of what we experience at work. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated ethernet leased line straight to your home, you’re probably using Fibre Broadband at best. This effectively means that you are using a VPN via the public Internet, which doesn’t support QoS (Quality of Service). Essential for a good experience of video conference calls. Add to this that you’re also most likely using Wi-Fi, which means that everything from your microwave to your smart-tv is also competing for bandwidth. All these factors combine to impact the user experience.
Is there a security issue?
In short, yes. Most VPNs will route all of your Internet traffic, including your personal traffic. This becomes a real issue because there’s now a higher chance of introducing malware for example, into your organisation’s network. This problem is exacerbated if your staff are using their own devices and not one that you’ve issued.
Furthermore, the hackers know that there is a massive increase in remote working now, so who do we think they’re now going to start targeting? We know this has already started because Microsoft recently sent out a targeted notification to healthcare organisations to warn them of a ransomware group who were purposely scanning the Internet looking for vulnerabilities in gateways and VPN software. Keeping up with the patching requirements of VPN software and gateways is a massively time-consuming exercise. Hackers only need to be lucky once. If they do get into your network via this route it can be nearly impossible to detect because VPNs are not usually designed to detect and act against breaches.
How can Cloud Services help?
Moving your IT infrastructure to the Cloud is not some kind of silver bullet. It is vitally important, especially with SMBs, to seek advice from your current IT supplier or talk to a specialised Cloud or Managed Services Provider. They can help you come up with the appropriate solutions and services that fit your business and your requirements. This is important because a wholesale migration to the Cloud might cause more problems than it fixes.
However, Cloud Services such as Desktop on Demand, can solve a lot of the issues outlined above. For example, you’ll see a negligible difference between everyone working at home vs working in the office. This is because these types of services are easy and quick to scale, there are no bottlenecks because the resources required are provided in the data centre. The end-user simply uses a dedicated application on any device to access all their work applications and data. This type of service provides a clear demarcation between the end-user device and home network and the work network, which means their privacy and yours is protected.
Those useful collaboration tools we discussed earlier can be optimised to work in these hosted desktop environments, which means saying goodbye to poor quality video calls. Perhaps the most important consideration is Security. Cloud Services such as Desktop on Demand are built with a security-first approach. They do not require the routing of personal Internet traffic via the Data Centre in which they’re hosted. The end-user device is simply a portal to the service, so it becomes nearly impossible for a device, regardless of health, to infect the virtual infrastructure. This allows for a true BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach to IT without the security worries that this would normally entail.
Unlike a VPN, a Desktop on Demand Service can be easily monitored to help prevent a data breach. They also tend to come with Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) as standard, requiring further credentials such as biometrics or a token from an authenticator app, for access to be obtained. Many corporate VPNs only have basic authentication procedures that are more easily breached.
As more of us continue to work remotely it is likely that VPNs will not last as a long-term strategy for maintaining network infrastructure to support remote work. The best solutions tend to be those that are almost invisible to the end-user, and VPN is certainly not an example of that. Whilst we’re being encouraged to “get back to work” and certain sections of our economy certainly need to (you usually can’t work remotely on a production line), it’s clear that remote working is going to become the norm. Business owners up and down the country have crunched the numbers and there are clear advantages to it. Therefore, it is vital to find a better way for our distributed workforce to stay productive and connected. This means services that provide a frictionless experience, such as Desktop on Demand, will rise in popularity. Setting up some VPN’s may be quicker to implement, but they tend not to replicate the in-office experience or be as secure, essential considerations, now more than ever.
Jitterbyte is a Cloud Services Provider created solely for the Channel. Managed Service Providers and Technology Resellers choose us when they are looking for a simple way to deliver secure, subscription-based Cloud Services that fix the problems their customers describe.