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Site-to-site VPN vs remote access VPN: Which is better?

Site-to-site VPNs and remote access VPNs are both useful services for businesses and large organizations, but they offer different benefits. In this article, we’ll compare these two VPN (virtual private network) options and try to determine which is best for your needs.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins

Site-to-site VPN vs remote access VPN: Which is better?

What is a remote access VPN?

A remote access VPN allows users to securely connect to private networks, even if they are far removed from them. For example, if you work from home or any other remote location, you could use this kind of VPN to access work resources and servers, which might otherwise be reserved for people in your office.

Remote access VPNs can also encrypt your internet traffic as it moves between your device and the network access server. Of course, not all services will provide the same level of encryption.

Unlike commercial virtual private networks (like NordVPN), remote access VPNs don’t just route your traffic through whatever server is closest to you. Instead, they connect you to a specific server, selected by the administrator who set up the VPN. However, commercial and remote access VPNs both use the same VPN client/server model, in which an app on your device establishes a VPN tunnel with a server.

Remote access VPNs should not be confused with site-to-site VPNs, though they each serve similar functions.

What is a site-to-site VPN?

A site-to-site VPN is a VPN that links two networks by routing traffic through designated servers. If a company has two offices, each with its own LAN (local area network), a site-to-site VPN could be used to connect them and allow employees to communicate as if they were all on the same network.

Site-to-site VPNs don’t rely on a VPN client/server model. Instead, they create an encrypted tunnel between VPN gateways in both local area networks, allowing data to move safely between them. An individual user doesn’t need to have VPN client software on their device as long as their traffic is being routed through one of the designated gateways. In most cases, a VPN gateway will be a server or a router.

Remote access VPN vs site-to-site VPN: Main differences

The main difference between a remote access VPN and a site-to-site VPN is how the systems are set up. The former involves a client/server model, while the latter connects two internet gateways and does not require users to install software.

They also serve slightly different purposes. As the name suggests, a remote access VPN is primarily designed to give someone remote access to a network they’re not able to join directly. A site-to-site VPN is less about remotely accessing resources and more about securely linking different networks.

Remote access VPN vs site-to-site VPN: Security protocols

The primary factor that makes one VPN more secure than another is the protocol being used. Different VPNs rely on different protocols, so it’s hard to contrast remote access and site-to-site VPNs on this basis.

Popular VPN protocols include OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, and WireGuard, but it’s up to whoever is providing and administering a VPN to decide what protocol is best for their uses. You can read more about the rival merits of these options in our article on common VPN protocols.

When it comes to deciding between remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs, it’s best to look at the different benefits each system provides.

Remote access VPN vs site-to-site VPN: Benefits

Both remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs have selling points, but the one you choose will depend largely on the specific needs of your organization.

Remote access VPN benefits

A remote access VPN is great for teams in which at least some employees work remotely. If a remote access user has the VPN client software on their device, they can work from anywhere with an internet connection and still get access to the tools, programs, and files that their colleagues have in the office.

Another benefit of a remote access VPN is that it encrypts traffic as it travels between a user’s device and the server on the other side. This means that even if they’re using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, they won’t be at risk of exposing sensitive company data.

Site-to-site VPN benefits

Site-to-site VPNs are great for seamlessly and securely connecting teams in different locations, allowing for greater synergy across large organizations. One of the big advantages they offer is ease of use – individual users don’t need to install additional software on their devices to use a site-to-site VPN.

Administrators also benefit from having more control over the site-to-site VPN and its security. With a remote access VPN, it’s up to individual users to keep their VPN client software updated and troubleshoot technical problems, but a site-to-site VPN can be maintained and monitored directly by whoever is running the gateways.

Remote access VPN vs site-to-site VPN: Disadvantages

Remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs both have some disadvantages, of course, depending on how you plan to use them.

Remote access VPN disadvantages

Remote access VPNs only protect data as it travels between the device installed with the client and the VPN server. As your data moves through the VPN tunnel, it is private and protected. However, if a hacker has compromised the server or the network to which the server provides access, sensitive information could still be exposed.

Another disadvantage of remote access VPNs are less easily managed from a central control portal. Instead, it falls to the individual owner of a device to make sure that the client software is updated and protected with secure passwords. Some remote access VPN services come with centralized management systems, improving troubleshooting and security for the VPN clients, but others do not.

Site-to-site VPN disadvantages

A site-to-site VPN does not provide additional security to the networks that it connects; the secure tunnel it establishes just protects data in transit between two or more networks. These systems also offer few benefits for remote employees, and work best when everyone is physically in one of the linked sites.

Site-to-site VPNs are usually more complex to set up and manage than remote access VPNs, which makes them a less appealing prospect for smaller businesses.

Site-to-site VPN vs remote access VPN: Final verdict

Both remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs come with benefits, and the systems are not mutually exclusive. You can have home workers connecting to office resources through a remote access VPN while multiple office networks are linked with site-to-site VPN tunnels.

If your priority is security, however, a remote access VPN may be the best option because it protects data while in transit. In cases where a team is partially dispersed across multiple locations, using a B2B remote access solution like NordLayer can protect sensitive information and limit the risks posed by endpoint threats. NordLayer also offers site-to-site VPN services, allowing organizations to benefit from the best of both options.

Even if you’re not part of a larger corporation, of course, you can still benefit from using NordVPN. The app encrypts your data while in transit and shields your IP address. It also comes with Threat Protection, a powerful feature that blocks ads and lowers the risks of malware infection.

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Malcolm Higgins
Malcolm Higgins Malcolm Higgins
Malcolm is a content writer specializing in cybersecurity and tech news. With a background in journalism and a passion for digital privacy, he hopes his work will empower people to control their own data.