You might not have a deep technical knowledge of a virtual private network (VPN), but rest assured, you are using one. At least one.
Using a VPN just means that you’re securely connecting to a corporate network that employees also use. You might have to enter private credentials to get the security in some instances, but not always. To illustrate the many types of VPNs you might be wittingly or unwittingly using, let’s take a look at how Amanda, a 33-year-old sales rep at a toy manufacturer, uses a VPN.
Bleary-eyed Amanda staggers into her home office with a steaming cup of Joe. Before hitting the road for a client meeting, she wants to be sure she’s up to speed on the work issues of the day. From her Wi-Fi-connected corporate laptop she brought home with her yesterday, she clicks on her company’s VPN software client, enters requested credentials, and brings up her work email inbox. She checks the shipping status of an order in response to one email request, sends a meeting reminder to her client, gulps the rest of her coffee, and is on her way
> Behind the scenes: Her work-related emails are delivered securely from her company’s data center over an MPLS VPN service to the edge of the MPLS provider’s network. There, they are encrypted using a standard technology called IPsec and sent the rest of the way to Amanda’s home office over the public Internet via Amanda’s home Internet connection. Reply emails happen in reverse.
At the customer’s office: Sell, sell, sell
Amanda sits down with Seth, a buyer for Fun Stuff, a retailer that carries her toy products. Seth wants to know how many 8-inch purple piggybanks he could distribute to his 102 nationwide stores in time for Christmas. Amanda fires up her personal tablet and clicks on an inventory application icon that her company, which supports BYOD, lets her run on her personal tablet. Up comes a database of all products in the warehouse and the numbers of each. Seth is in luck: he’s got first dibs on 2,500 purple piggies.
> Behind the scenes: Business apps on Amanda’s personal device are “containerized” and have their own VPN that secures information over the air. In this way, corporate apps and data are kept separate and secure.
Quick shopping pit stop
Discussing a Christmas shipment reminds Amanda that if she wants to be sure to get the newest life-size doll her daughter Nikki has asked Santa for, she better order it now. She takes a minute to pull out her tablet, visit her favorite retail store online, and place an order for the doll – whew, it’s in stock! She enters the requisite ordering information and clicks the “place order” button. Mission accomplished.
> Behind the scenes: Amanda’s credit card credentials are again protected because her browser contains a Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) VPN, rather than Amanda having to run SSL/TLS client software on her tablet. Amanda sees https:// in the URL window (“s” standing for “secure”) as she places her order, so she knows her private information is encrypted.
Amanda’s working at one of her customer’s offices when she suddenly remembers that she promised Seth a catalog of next year’s product lineup. The catalog is stored on her corporate network. When Amanda arrives, she finds a workspace where she uses Wi-Fi to connect to her customer’s guest internet access. She launches her corporate VPN from her corporate laptop, which allows her to access her network files and email the catalog to Seth.
>Behind the scenes: Luckily, Amanda has her corporate laptop with her. She uses her customer’s Wi-Fi connection to access her company’s MPLS VPN and securely accesses the catalog stored on a server in the data center.
Amanda arrives at work in time to participate in a collaborative, video-based sales meeting taking place among headquarters and several regional sites. To join, Amanda simply clicks on the link in her conference meeting invite, and up comes headshots of the folks on the call, with the image of the person talking enlarged. Amanda and her colleagues verbally kick around ideas, issues and challenges while viewing whiteboards, documents, and calendars.
>Behind the scenes: Amanda is connected directly to the corporate LAN, which connects, via router, to her company’s MPLS VPN. By way of the MPLS VPN, all the corporate sites can connect securely and directly to one another with service-level guarantees for uptime and latency, which are critical to the performance of the meeting when conducting multimedia sessions in real time.
Amanda has been asked to mentor a novice sales rep in a new, small, remotely located office, so she’s there now teaching Keith the ropes. To illustrate some of her points, she pulls up inventory, project management and CRM application data stored in the headquarters data center. She accesses it by clicking on her remote access client on her corporate laptop. Amanda and Keith can even converse using VoIP with folks at headquarters when questions come up.
>Behind the scenes: Amanda and Keith are actually using IPsec over the Internet as a secure access method into the corporate MPLS VPN, the way Amanda did from home on Monday. Getting into the MPLS VPN allows them to conduct collaborative sessions with folks at any MPLS-connected site.
In Summary: Options abound
As you can see, there are myriad VPN types, some of which you know you’re using and others that just work quietly in the background. Their purpose is to keep business information secure within the company, even on a shared, common network infrastructure. VPNs, such as IPsec and SSL/TLS, are focused on security. Other types, like MPLS VPNs, partition traffic to secure it, but also layer enhanced, business-class services on top of security. These services include business continuity, quality of service, and class-of-service traffic prioritization, and they ensure that real-time voice and video traffic perform optimally.