What is a VPN Server?
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are used to create secure “tunnels” between one computer and another. This “tunnel”, often encrypted for security, allows communications and control of either machine. This is commonly used when two computers are on completely separate networks, but need to communicate with each other as if they are on the same network. If you’ve ever setup a shared network at home to view the pictures or videos from another home computer only to go to work to find you can’t access those pictures anymore then you can see how this might be useful. Essentially, it allows you to securely connect to another computer over the internet to do many of the things you might do on a home network.
Recently, a trending use for a VPN is to create a secure “proxy” of sorts where a user connecting to the internet from a hotel in Canada connects to their home computer back in the California, USA. A VPN configured properly allows the user to browse the internet as if they are browsing from that California location. If you’re travelling and suddenly can’t access your Netflix or Hulu subscription because you’re not in a country that supports it… well, you can see how this could be useful. You can ensure that you’re always able to access the content you pay for; from anywhere.
The reason for this is when a website attempts to identify where the user is requesting the connection from, that website server will only see the remote VPN server. The data is then “ tunneled” back to the end user’s browser. The website is delivering content to the USA VPN machine and the rest happens over the VPN connection.
Let’s use Netflix as an example; Netflix will attempt to identify the location of the computer requesting a particular movie in order to ensure they only provide content allowed by copyright laws for that particular location. Since it will see only the USA VPN server, it identifies the server as located in the USA and will stream USA content accordingly. Like being connected to a network, and unbeknownst to Netflix, you’re actual location is completely distinct back at your hotel in Canada.
The USA Netflix customer gets their USA Netflix service and everyone is happy.
“VPN as a Service” vs “VPN on a VPS”
The end result can be the same, you get a service and with a touch of configuration (minutes) you can be connected and accessing worldwide content from anywhere. There are dramatic differences however that are best described in context.
VPN-as-a-Service (much like Software-as-a-Service) is essentially a subscription to that very specific service. You’re likely charged per user or based on how often you use it and you can use it only for VPN as described by the service provider.
VPN on a VPS (Virtual Private Server) can offer the same level of ease in getting up and running with a VPN as VPN-as-a-Service provider can, but in this case the service you’re purchasing is a pre-built server. You get the full server under your control and can do essentially whatever you want with it.
myhosting.com VPN VPS vs StrongVPN Service
StrongVPN offers VPN-as-a-Service subscriptions which are per user per connection. This is the more cost effective solution if you only need a connection for yourself. But it can get pricey pretty quickly when you need to add additional users. As a service you are simply provided access to a shared server in which many other users are connecting. While StrongVPN has put efforts into securing such connections, when you share any network (even a Virtual Private one), there are bound to be security concerns.
Alternatively, a VPS allows you to manage the entire VPN server including users, simultaneous connections and much more. The VPS is yours and yours alone, this means you control who accesses it and when. Not only is this more secure, but results in better performance when you need it. Sharing anything always ends in at least someone getting grabby and hogging all the bandwidth or server resources. And, in case you’re feeling frisky, you can always add additional services and features include audio/video streaming servers so you can store your content and stream it from anywhere. Software like XBMC, AirVideo server, and many others support streaming over networks.
There are a couple of areas of concern if you decide to go with a VPS based VPN however.
StrongVPN has servers in many different countries, for my purposes, I’ve never had a need for content outside of USA and Canada so this isn’t a problem for most VPS providers, but if you do need data centers in other locations, StrongVPN may be your best bet.
Second concern is regarding bandwidth which is often limited on a VPS while on StrongVPN claims to have no official cap (though I’m sure if you manage to crank up the bandwidth they’ll find some way to stick it to you). That said; most VPS plans including those at myhosting.com start at bandwidth allowances of 300GB and higher… without saying that’s more than enough, I’m not sure if you’ve looked at your home bandwidth limits with Verizon, Comcast, Rogers lately, but most mid-range plans are capped under 100GB… if you’re fine with that then 300 GB is overkill.
The other concern is bandwidth speed which again StrongVPN claims to be uncapped, but again, we’re talking shared VPN servers or your own VPN server on a VPS. VPS providers commonly cater to web hosting developers and resellers who inherently post many websites that constantly have many simultaneous connections and often stream audio and video at end user request… so presuming you have a dependable VPS provider, speed likely isn’t an issue either. And again, you’re not sharing the connection with nearly as many others, so there’s no one to bogart the bandwidth pipe.
What is OpenVPN?
OpenVPN and PPTP are the staples of the VPN world currently. OpenVPN Access Server provides a powerful interface for configuring and managing a VPN server including user, network and configuration management for administrators. OpenVPN also provides easy to install and configure apps to make connecting to any OpenVPN server easy, you enter the IP or hostname of the VPN server as well as a username and password and you’re able to log in near instantaneously.
The client software doesn’t change whether you’re connecting to a VPN server setup on a VPS or connecting to a service like StrongVPN. What does change is your level of control over the VPN.
What is PPTP?
PPTP (Peer to Peer Tunneling Protocol) is a very basic VPN tunnel that’s been used for quite a long time. Because of its simplicity, it is still quite commonly used and in fact is one of few ways users can create VPN connections on their mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, Android and Windows phones.