We're working on an article about Remote File Sharing, and for awhile it included coverage of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). We decided eventually that it didn't make sense to include a lot of detail in this article... but hey, we got it all written up, so here it is: the pros and cons of VPNs, with a focus on the need to share files with remote users.
If you have a group that needs to share files over a long period of time, and the group members aren’t changing much, it makes sense to make a larger initial investment for a filesharing method that will be easier to use and maintain in the long-term. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the most commonly used method in this circumstance. A VPN allows remote users to securely connect to an internal network. For instance, if an employee is working from home, she can click a VPN icon on a computer desktop, enter a login and password, and then be able to use gain access to a central file server, email server, or applications just as they would on an office computer.
A VPN provides much more than just file sharing, but can be an interesting option for allowing remote staff members to access a shared network drive which is used to store files. Because VPNs are typically slower than direct access to the network, and depend on a centralized network structure, they are most effective in situations where most employees are in a central location, and only a few require remote access.
It’s best to hire a skilled network administrator to setup a VPN, as a poor configuration can cause substantial network security and stability problems. Set up also requires network router (a piece of hardware that controls the networking of your computers) to facilitate the VPN. If your organization already has a router, it may already be able to support a VPN; if not, you will need to upgrade your hardware. The total cost to set up a VPN is likely to be approximately $1500 to $2500, including hardware and consulting costs.
Unlike many other file-sharing solutions, a VPN will require little maintenance or financial investment after the initial setup. You’ll need to install the VPN connection software on any new computers that need to connect to the network, but beyond that, it requires little IT time or specialized skills. And because files are stored on your central file servers, they are automatically synchronized and backed up (if, of course, you’re backing up your file servers) .