Many people confuse the application of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Remote Desktop or they consider them to be the same thing, when they are not. Both are used to access resources on a remote network but provide different levels of access and security. In this article we will review the two different applications to see how they compare to each other and see how they are used in business applications for a remote workforce.
A VPN extends a private network across a public network to enable users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their workstations were directly connected to the private network. More simply put, a VPN connection allows a personal computer, or other device, such as a smart phone or tablet, to access a company’s network such as a file server. This allows the user to be able to access work files from home without the danger of sending information through an unsecured line.
VPNs also have some draw backs and limitations to be aware of. First, VPNs use a lot of bandwidth which can cause users to experience a very slow experience depending on their home internet connection and how much traffic is accessing the company’s network remotely at any given point in time. Secondly, allowing personal devices a direct access to a company’s network increases security risks dramatically. Personal computers may be infected or easily accessed by cyber criminals if not kept up to date with good security software. Once connected through a VPN access point, cyber criminals would have direct access to the company’s network. Finally, VPN does not allow users to utilize any company software that is not loaded onto their personal device. In other words, users who need to process payroll, accounting or any other software would not be able to function unless that software was first loaded onto their personal device. Imagine trying to open an Excel file but not being able to because you don’t personally have Excel on your device.
Pros: access to files on server, secure link to personal device
Cons: large bandwidth requirements, can have slower speeds, cybersecurity problems, all software needs to be on personal device
Remote Desktop allows a user to access a device that is on a company’s network. Basically, Remote Desktop allows remote workers to access their desktop at the office, just like they were sitting at their desk. Through tools such as Splashtop, LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, or others, remote workers can log into their desktop using their personal device and make their personal device mirror their desktop at the office.
Remote Desktop tools have some advantages over VPN because users not only have access to files stored on the company’s network, but they also have access to all the resources on their desktop. This means users can run all the software that is on their desktop, no matter where they are. Additionally, users can easily share their screens and use collaboration tools (like Microsoft Teams) to more effectively communicate with others in the company. Additionally, utilizing remote desktop tools increases security for companies over VPN. A user's personal device does not directly connect to the company’s network but rather uses a third-party interface. By doing this, any viruses the personal device is carrying won’t go to the company’s network due to the extra fire wall security. Additionally, it is much harder for cyber criminals to penetrate the companies network utilizing remote desktop tools vs a direct VPN connection.. Further, most Remote Desktop tools provide a secure connection through encryption and two-step verifications.
Pros: complete access to files and software, easier to use, faster, secure
Cons: potential bottlenecks and downtime at service provider
From a business perspective, Remote Desktop provides a superior solution for remote work with an easier user experience and the ability to utilize software the user has on their desktop at the office. This increases productivity and allows users to operate as if they were sitting at their desk in their office. Additionally, Remote Desktop is generally faster for users and provides additional security when utilizing third party tools. Finally, Remote Desktop tools can be easily deployed across networks allowing employees to be productive and effective quickly.
What you need to know for an effective remote workforce