Years ago, I had a very exciting job installing a VPN client from IBM on thousands of laptops in a Pharmaceutical company. They took security very seriously, the stakes are high with regards drug and research – many of these laptops had direct access to all sorts of confidential data. All the laptops were secure, all had full disk encryption multiple authentication requirements and if they were lost they could be remotely locked too.
For many years, the company refused to allow access to the internet using company laptops citing the security issues. However over the years the pressure became greater, people got fed up of carting two laptops every where and the tablet wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as they are now. Eventually they gave in and allowed people to use both the internet for personal reasons, but also remote access into the corporate network. There was much expense involved and the laptops were about as secure as they could possibly be in those circumstances using the technology available.
One important concepts was the VPN, first it allowed access to the corporate network and secondly it allowed another level of protection for communication online. The IBM client software I installed would look for the nearest company VPN server and connect through to that, all the individuals were supposed to use this method every time they went online. It all looked great in theory although many in security still maintained there ‘no net is safer’ stance.
The problem was, the super secure VPN service was very slow, despite supposedly trying to connect to the nearest VPN server – sometimes this didn’t work very well and the client software would pick some remote server on the other side of the world. Also some of the servers just ran very slowly across certain connections, in many cases this was due to routing and hardware issues not related to the servers themselves. For the people who used these laptops, the decision was quite simple – fire up the VPN and suffer tedious waits, buffering and delays or forget to start the VPN and surf normally at super fast speeds that are often available in hotels and remote locations. The reality was very few people ended up using this expensive, global network of VPN servers unless they really had to.
Speed is Important in a VPN
Although it’s primary purpose is arguably security, a fast VPN service is something that is essential if it’s going to be used. As we can see from this video:
A VPN server will always have some impact on speed simply because it’s adding an extra hop on any route. However a fast, well configured VPN service can minimize this extra lag – in fact there are compression technologies that can severely reduce the effect and sometimes they can even speed up a connection slightly.
When you are looking at choosing a VPN service make sure that you test relative speed carefully especially before taking up a long subscription. There are a variety of speed tests sites available online and what you should do is baseline your connection without the VPN enabled and then check the impact of using the tunnel. Make sure you check the specific countries you need, for example if you use a VPN to access UK TV sites and media – then ensure that you test the UK servers. Often popular countries are overloaded with requests whilst other servers may run much more quickly because they’re underutilized.