To understand the difference between a traditional VPN connection and the latest cloud computing methods of file transfer, it’s important to first understand exactly what a VPN is and how it works.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a method of creating what seems to be a private network over the existing wide area network—or, in other words, the internet. Companies have been using VPNs for a long time, and the upside is they are very easy to set up and they are cost-effective. They are typically installed on laptops for traveling salespeople or on the computers of home-workers, so that the resources of the work environment network are available “as if you were in the office.”
There are a few downsides to a VPN too—while relatively easy to set up for IT personnel, they can be devilishly tricky for a user to fix if something goes wrong while out of the office. VPNs also use specific port numbers (a “channel” on an IP network), that can sometimes be blocked by certain wireless networks such as hotels and cafes. For security, VPNs tend to rely on end-to-end data encryption, which his relatively secure. However, the weakest point is usually the username and password required to log onto the network. These have been known to be vulnerable in the past, which is why many companies are now moving away from VPNs towards something more robust and easy to use.
Enter the world of cloud computing. While cloud computing has been in existence for some time, it hasn’t been until the last few years that it’s really taken off. This is likely due to the price of data storage being dramatically reduced: it used to cost a small fortune for file space online, but you can now get packages with more space than you’d ever need for a fraction of the fee. There are also more services available, so competition has driven the prices lower and the number of features higher.
There are 2 primary methods of cloud computing, the first being a data storage area and the second being an online CRM system. A CRM is like a huge database where you can store the names, addresses, phone numbers, and much more information on the internet. Think of it as a database of your entire customer base, with details of conversations, meetings, and more. You can provide a login account to everyone in your organization, and then you can see who is talking to whom and about what. Of course, using this in the cloud allows you to do so from anywhere a standard internet connection is available, and that’s the raw power of a cloud-based CRM—connectivity from anywhere. You can even use your phone or tablet. This immediately makes cloud computing much more user-friendly than a fiddly VPN, and if it’s user-friendly, then it will be much more useful too.
But you don’t need a CRM to be productive in the cloud. Standard data storage areas can also be used to share files and collaborate on projects. They too can be used via a standard internet connection, and usually through the user’s favorite browser. Just upload a document from your computer and share it with your colleagues via a link.
There are a couple of extra benefits of using cloud computing over VPNs, too, and one of the most important benefits concerns the issue of backups. Everyone needs backups of their important files, and on a traditional VPN this is carried out on a file server, usually at head-office, and usually by an IT technician backing up files to a disk or tape. Cloud computing effectively shares your data and files over multiple data centers, and these could be in different cities or even different countries. Where the backup at the office could be corrupted or lost, the chances of multiple data-centers losing their data all at the same time are infinitesimal.
Another benefit is the speed of connections. Let’s say your head office is in New York, and you happen to be in the Far East on business. To establish a VPN connection would involve many data “hops” (connections through internet servers), and thus the connection could be quite slow. With a cloud network, you’re connecting not to a particular server, but a data node at a local data center that has a copy of your data. There could very well be one close to you in the Far East, and, therefore, your connection would be very quick.
There are so many benefits of cloud computing over VPN connections, and it’s almost impossible to quantify them all. Hopefully by these few words you can see that cloud computing offers many advantages over a VPN, the primary ones being convenience, security, and user-friendliness.