Your VPN Sucks, and Your Users Hate It

VPNs are a tool that most organizations employ in one way or another, so much so that relying on them is taken by any enterprises as a given. Especially for businesses that use legacy storage solutions such as on-premises file servers, VPNs can just seem like a fact of life, their necessity a no-brainer.

While there are many drawbacks and limitations imposed by legacy storage, the need for VPNs is one of the biggest and least discussed. While VPNs may be required for access to critical systems or data, requiring entire workforces to use them for simple access to files isn’t needed anymore.

Luckily, as we’ve said, enterprises needn’t remain tied down by clumsy VPNs.

VPNs Restrict How Users Access Their Content

We’ve spoken in the past about one of the major strengths of cloud collaboration platforms: the ability of users to access their content remotely, and on the go. With on-premises servers, users simply do not have the ability to do that, unless they rely on an organization-based VPN. If that seems like a minor quibble or you believe that having to use a VPN is really only one small step between users and content, you must also consider that this small step makes entire organizations totally dependent on that VPN; and that their content depends on that VPN remaining active, and secure.

Next to email, user-created content is probably the most essential thing that members of a team or department require access to. By sticking with on-premises storage and VPNs with it, businesses are limiting how their employees access one of their most important tools, and–by doing so–severely jeopardizing success and productivity. Ditching that VPN is one of the best ways to empower your users, and by migrating to the cloud there are more ways to do so than ever before. Allowing users to work remotely, on multiple devices, from multiple locations will help unite your teams. The productivity that comes with that experience is largely incompatible with the limitations and pitfalls of virtual private networks. As explained by Box’s recent post about how Barney’s employees rely on mobile collaboration tools during Fashion Week, it’s clear that organizations reliant of VPNs are setting their users up to struggle to get their job done.

VPNs are Often a Technical Headache

While it’s true that there are VPNs of all strengths and speeds, more often than not, even the best of these options pales in comparison to a regular internet connection. For organizations that are often working with large and complicated files stored in servers, VPNs present a special frustration: they take a lot of time to access and download these files. On the best days, this can be just a minor hassle, but on the worst, it presents a major problem for teams and users who desperately require access to their content on a deadline.

On top of this, many users will find that certain sites or applications block VPNs or, at the very least, operate less efficiently when they encounter one. Forget to turn off your VPN while you’re using Slack or a similar chat application, and you might find that your messages are sending more slowly or less successfully than before. You might have other applications outright fail on you, or sites announce that they cannot be reached. In situations like this–where users are not accessing files or content stored behind the VPN–it is possible to simply turn the network off, but having to do so over and over just to get basic tasks done seems woefully and absurdly inefficient when you really think about it.

On top of these issues, VPNs are another piece of software for IT to maintain. Issues with VPNs will take valuable time away from not only the users who rely on them, but the IT specialists who will have to troubleshoot and address the issue. As demonstrated by this article, these problems can be wide ranging, and the steps that IT needs to go through to figure out exactly what’s causing the issue can be a massive drain on productivity. That VPNs can also pose a problem for administrative permissions, requiring admins and IT to constantly fiddle with the VPN to make sure all files are properly protected and assigned is just the icing on the cake.

VPNs are Just Not as Secure as You Think

Remember how we mentioned that, with on-premises servers, mobile users who need access to their content will have to use a VPN? Well, this can pose a major security threat to organizations, simply because many VPNs (especially mobile VPNs) are rife with flaws, and very vulnerable to cyber-attacks. As noted by WIRED, a 2017 study of 283 mobile VPNs conducted by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found that a majority of them had serious privacy and security limitations. These problems varied, with 18% creating tunnels for user data to move through, but failed to encrypt it (leaving the data vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks), and a whopping 84% “didn’t properly encrypt traffic between sites using the most recent version of the Internet Protocol.”

If your data is protected by a VPN and that VPN is hacked or a user’s credentials are compromised, the conclusion is often not pretty. This ultimately means, especially for users working remotely, that organizations that rely on VPNs will have to choose between security and productivity, a dilemma which–more often than not–will result in users losing flexible access to the content they need to work.

While some might right this problem off by saying that really no storage solution or network is 100% safe, it remains true that cloud collaboration platforms–with enhanced control for admins  and compliance tools specifically designed to protect a business’ most sensitive data–don’t fail like many VPNs do when it comes to security. At the end of the day, an organization cannot take the security of their files for granted, and IT teams and administrators must seriously consider what solutions offer the most robust protection. With a VPN, there’s always a sizable risk that all of the data stored in their servers could be jeopardized. For most organizations, that’s not a risk worth taking.

There’s a Better Way

By migrating content from file servers to cloud collaboration platforms, organizations of all sizes can ditch their legacy storage, and their VPNs with it. They can expand the ways in which users can access and collaborate on important content and create a storage environment that privileges sharing and productivity, without the need for networks that hinder users who are just trying to do their jobs.

Where VPNs make it harder to reach your files, cloud collaboration platforms, on the other hand, provide tools like Google File Stream–allowing users to view and download important files from the cloud to their computer for offline viewing without even opening a web browser. Where VPNs limit flexibility, cloud platforms offer robust mobile apps that help users work wherever and whenever they need to. Where VPNs leave businesses open to security risks, cloud storage gives admins and IT a wealth of tools to protect sensitive data, and tailor compliance settings. For these reasons and more, many organizations are beginning to realize just what the superior option is.

While some organizations who choose to migrate might still employ a VPN–usually for things like HR or legal applications–most users will never have to worry about it, and the majority of content will remain safe and accessible in the cloud. Ultimately, the fewer users that need to rely on a VPN, the better off an organization will be.

Just because something has been the standard for a long time, doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be, especially if there are better options. When it comes to VPNs, there are definitely better options.