With so many virtual private network (VPN) providers out there, looking for the right VPN for your business can be surprisingly complicated. Some aspects of VPN usage are similar in both personal and business contexts, but it’s important to be aware of the unique factors to consider in a business VPN.
In this article, we’ll discuss some key features of business VPNs and which VPN options for small businesses come with the best value. While some providers offer incredibly deep toolkits, we’ll mostly focus on the core elements of a business VPN, including price, security, reliability, speed, and ease of use. A strong VPN will keep your internet activity safe without slowing down your traffic or causing any other disruptions.
Do I Need a VPN for My Business?
A VPN essentially routes your traffic through another server before sending it out on the internet. This basic function provides several advantages over unsecured internet use. Personal VPNs are often used to protect internet activity on public Wi-Fi networks, circumvent region locks on streaming content, and avoid network firewalls and content blocks.
Regardless of the size of your company, a business VPN will secure your traffic and offer several additional benefits. They’re particularly critical for companies who offer remote access, which can be much more difficult to manage when it comes to organizational security. Unsecured internet traffic is an unnecessary weak point for companies in almost any field, especially in an environment where the internet plays a greater role than ever in business activity.
Furthermore, some contemporary business VPNs allow information technology (IT) teams to access user logins and monitor VPN activity. Employee errors are the most common cause of data breaches, and remote work comes with significantly higher levels of risk. Without clear security policies for remote workers — including a company VPN — you’ll be at the mercy of each employee’s digital security habits.
Personal VPN vs. Business VPN: What’s the Difference?
Personal and business VPNs come with the same basic functionality, but a consumer provider may not have the tools you need to implement and manage a VPN at the organizational level. If you’re looking for a VPN to protect remote access, for example, you need to find a provider that offers centralized user management and activity tracking.
Furthermore, asking each employee to set up their own personal VPN isn’t a practical solution for companies that rely on remote access. Business VPNs offer dedicated internet protocol (IP) addresses, allowing all users to connect to the same address. This makes it easy to route remote access through the business VPN, maintaining a secure connection and providing convenient access to company resources regardless of a user’s physical location.
It’s also worth noting that despite their similar functions, business VPNs serve a very different purpose from consumer VPNs. If you install a VPN on your own computer, you’re improving your own digital security. However, when you install a VPN at the company level, you’re primarily protecting the security of your organization, so user activity often is accessible easily by VPN admins.
Along with viewing user activity, business VPN account managers can also add and remove users and quickly change settings that will affect the entire organization. This kind of high-level control is crucial for keeping your organization secure, especially if you’re working with a large number of users.
3 Types of VPNs for Businesses
In general, businesses can choose one of three broad categories of VPNs. Fixed VPNs, specialized VPNs, and VPN services all come with unique pros and cons, and it’s important to identify the one that aligns with your organization’s needs. In the next section, we’ll cover the differences between these types of VPNs and highlight some possible use cases for each option.
Fixed, static, or dedicated VPNs give customers a single, unique IP address that won’t be used by any of their other clients. Everyone in your organization who uses your fixed VPN will be connected to the same IP address, making it a natural choice for businesses that restrict resource access to the company network.
While you may have to pay extra for a dedicated IP address, it can be a worthwhile investment for numerous reasons. First, it ensures that your entire organization is on one IP address, which is ideal for user management and centralized access. It also reduces the risk of your server being blacklisted since you won’t be affected by the activity of any users outside of your organization.
For the same reason, your performance won’t be impacted by external traffic on your server, and you may notice more reliable results on a dedicated VPN if you’re sending marketing emails. Ultimately, whether a dedicated VPN is worth the additional costs depends on your budget and needs.
Specialized VPNs integrate directly into your router or a specialized server, and they’re generally managed by an in-house IT department. For those reasons, they’re most popular among enterprises and other large organizations. Once the VPN is installed on your server or router, it will protect every device that’s connected to the network automatically.
One advantage of specialized VPNs is that they make it simple to get the benefits of a VPN on streaming hardware and other devices that don’t work well with most VPN platforms. They’re also an easy way to connect a large number of people to the same VPN without having to adjust settings for individual users. While some platforms use kill switches to disconnect from the internet when the VPN stops working, specialized VPNs remove the risk of unsecured traffic completely, which means that if the VPN goes down, so does the router or server.
However, not all routers support contemporary VPN functionality, so you may need to invest in new hardware before setting up a specialized VPN. Running your VPN through your router also tends to be more complex with respect to both setup and ongoing management.
VPN services offer VPN functionality through the cloud, routing your traffic through the provider’s tunnel before sending it to the internet. A VPN service essentially takes the place of your internet service provider (ISP). They’re more common than both specialized and fixed VPNs in consumer contexts, but they’re also becoming more popular among businesses.
One drawback of most VPN services is that they typically don’t come with the same features for administrators that you can get from a reliable business VPN. This means that they tend to be much more affordable than VPNs that are designed specifically for businesses, and they may provide enough tools for some startups and small businesses.
Business VPN Features to Consider
Each VPN comes with a unique set of pros and cons, and the most important factors to consider will depend on your use case. In the next section, we’ll cover some key features of a business VPN and how to identify a provider that will help you create a more secure environment for your organization.
A VPN is designed to keep your information safe from third parties, but that may not be as helpful if the VPN stores your information itself. Logging is a surprisingly common practice among both personal and business VPN providers, and it’s a vital concern for many reasons.
For example, if your VPN stores logs, a government may be able to subpoena that information depending on where your provider is headquartered. If there are no logs at all, however, there won’t be anything for them to share in the first place.
It’s crucial to remember that all logs are not created equal. Some VPNs store information about your activity, which could include the content of your internet traffic. Others merely store data about when you connected or disconnected, which can still be sensitive but are far less invasive. Of course, a reliable no-logging policy is the simplest way to ensure that your information is safe.
Unfortunately, no-logs guarantees aren’t always as good as they seem. Near the end of 2020, VPNMentor identified seven free VPNs that stored activity logs despite explicit no-logging policies. The best way to confirm that a VPN doesn’t store private information is to look for a provider that has been through an independent security audit.
Customers often are pulled in by free VPNs that claim to offer security at no charge, but free isn’t always better. As in any other field, if you’re getting a service for free, that means the provider is finding another way to make money, and you’re likely their product rather than their customer. Social media platforms, for example, often generate revenue by selling data to third parties or targeting their users with personalized ads.
Depending on your use case, you may be looking for a VPN with a wide range of server locations or one that has servers in a particular country. Of course, server coverage isn’t as important if you plan to use a single dedicated server for remote access.
In general, you’ll notice the better performance when connecting a server that’s physically close to your location. With that in mind, server availability may be less relevant than raw speed, especially if your team is concentrated in a single area. A reliable VPN should have little to no effect on your connection, so let your provider know if you experience any slowdowns or outages.
An intuitive central management interface is a critical aspect of any business VPN, especially if you’re managing a large team. The control panel provides access to various configuration options such as adding and deleting user accounts and controlling permissions at the individual level.
As the VPN administrator, you might be able to ensure organizational security by requiring two-factor authentication on all employee accounts. Some providers may also allow you to set up user logins through third-party platforms. NordVPN, for example, enables Teams subscribers to sign in through Okta, Google, and Azure AD without creating a NordVPN account.
A trustworthy no-logs policy is conducive to VPN privacy, but there are other security features to consider in a business VPN. If your provider doesn’t let you require two-factor authentication on user accounts, you’ll be open to breaches if an employee device gets into the wrong hands. Make sure to thoroughly evaluate each provider’s security practices before committing to a new VPN.
Kill switches are another important security tool that are relatively common among both business and personal VPNs. With a kill switch enabled, the VPN will cut off internet traffic automatically whenever you lose your connection to the VPN server. This means that you’ll lose your internet connection entirely instead of being exposed to an unsecured network. Without a kill switch, on the other hand, your activity won’t be secure until you notice the problem or the VPN comes back online.
Depending on the provider you use, you may have the option to set limits or restrictions on user activity. For example, you might be interested in blocking social media or restricting sites that could have malware. User error is responsible for a surprisingly high percentage of data breaches, so you can mitigate that threat by keeping your employees from visiting risky sites.
Activity management is another area where business VPNs offer far more functionality than a typical VPN that targets individual consumers. The ability to set restrictions and keep an eye on employee activity from a centralized user management interface is extremely helpful for large organizations, and the best business VPNs make it easy to configure these settings in just a few clicks.
Customer service might sound like an afterthought, but responsive and helpful support options can go a long way toward improving the user experience. There’s nothing worse than encountering a problem with your business VPN and waiting hours — or days — to hear back from your provider. Even small periods of server downtime can have a substantial impact on your business, especially if you can’t get in touch with an agent quickly.
If possible, look for a VPN that comes with 24/7 support, preferably through a real-time medium like a phone or live chat. Keep in mind that some providers offer priority support to users in particular subscription tiers. For example, while all NordVPN Teams subscribers gain access to 24/7 help, Advanced users get priority support while Enterprise users get 24/7 phone availability.
How to Choose the Best VPN for Your Business
Now that you understand the core features of a business VPN, you can start comparing providers and looking for an option that works for your company. There are too many unique VPNs to provide a blanket recommendation, but we can help you through the process with some tips for finding the right VPN.
Your first step should be to rule out any providers that you aren’t willing to trust with your information. Even if a VPN offers everything else you need, you shouldn’t compromise your security when there are so many providers out there. For example, you may want to exclude any VPNs that haven’t been through an independent security audit — these criteria alone will narrow down your search to a few options and make it much easier to reach a final decision.
From there, identify any tools or features that you wouldn’t want to do without. If your team works around the clock, for example, you likely need a business VPN that offers 24/7 support for immediate access to help. These factors aren’t as central as something like security, but they’re still worth considering at this stage of the search.
Finally, look at some reviews — both by tech publications and individual users — and compare the pricing of the providers you’re still open to. You can also start to consider the interface and quality of life features to see which one aligns with your workflow. At this point, you’re mostly looking at cosmetic differences, secondary tools, and overall value to make your final decision.