What Is Site-to-Site VPN?

The question of what is a site-to-site VPN has multiple possible answers. However, the most straightforward answer would be to say that a site-to-site VPN is a type of VPN connection that encrypts data between two locations without the need for client software. As such, site-to-site VPNs are primarily found in business environments.

To learn more about this type of VPN connection, join us as we explore and explain site-to-site VPNs in-depth, including their definition, benefits, limitations, and more.

What’s the Purpose of Site-to-Site VPNs? 

The primary purpose of a site-to-site VPN is to connect two or more physically separate business units (LANs) safely and securely. Let's explain how that works.

Let’s say that a company has offices in two locations, in two different countries. As a way to exchange data between those offices, the company uses the Internet. However, considering that we’re talking about confidential data here, that connection must be encrypted and kept separate from the "open" Internet (where it might be intercepted and misused).

Therefore, those two offices can connect via a site-to-site VPN, which operates at a gateway. That means that employees don't have to do anything extra on their part, like installing a VPN client or using it to connect to their secure network. Instead, as long as they're connected to their company network, their data is encrypted and kept separate from the "open" Internet.

What Are the Benefits of Site-to-Site VPNs? 

One of the earliest uses of VPN networks relates to site-to-site VPNs. They’ve been used for several decades now, bringing the following benefits:

  • Secure Web Communication: The primary purpose of a site-to-site VPN is to encrypt Web data, making it confidential. Protecting business networks has become paramount in today’s digital world, as cyberattacks have become quite common across the globe.
  • Simplified Internal Network Architecture: When it comes to closed networks, such as a LAN, internal IP addresses are used to transmit data between endpoints. By employing a site-to-site VPN, there's no need for external IP addresses, which typically complicate a large-scale business network organization. Instead, internal IPs are used, even when transferring data from one LAN to another. 
  • Easier Access Control: Large-scale LANs are intended to be accessed internally, preventing access from outside sources, keeping confidential data safe. Thanks to site-to-site VPNs, setting up access control is much easier as it comes down to blocking access to devices that aren’t part of the LAN.  

What Are the Limitations of Site-to-Site VPNs?

Of course, just like any other software technology, site-to-site VPNs do have their limitations, as explained just below:

  • Limited Cybersecurity Measures: Aside from encrypting Web data, site-to-site VPNs don't provide any additional cybersecurity measures. In other words, VPNs don't perform an inspection of content or access control, which is why site-to-site VPNs often need to be supplemented by other technologies, creating a complex system.
  • Limited & Inefficient Routing: Although individual LANs are connected to a single WAN network, they still operate independently. To ensure proper cybersecurity, other technologies are used, acting as centralized hubs for WAN networks. As a result, this creates significant latency, leading to inefficient routing.
  • Complex Configuration & Management: As mentioned above, individual LANs remain individual even when connected to a WAN network. Even though this sounds simple in theory, it's pretty complex in practice as each LAN must be set up, monitored, and managed individually.

What Other Types of VPN Networks Exist? 

Besides site-to-site VPN networks, there are other (similar) VPN networks, each with its benefits and limitations. Here's a quick overview:

  • Remote-Access VPN Networks: When reading about VPN services online, you’re often reading about remote-access VPNs (as these are consumer-grade VPNs). These require clients to be installed, using which you access a VPN network, change your IP address, and encrypt your Web data. Some of the most popular VPNs of this kind are ExpressVPNCyberGhost VPN, and NordVPN.
  • Intranet-Based Site-to-Site VPNs: These are typical site-to-site VPN networks, as explained in this article. That means intranet-based networks connect individual LANs into a unified WAN network. All participants of that WAN network have access to the same resources at once.
  • Extranet-Based Site-to-Site VPNs: There are many cases where companies partner, resulting in the need to share data confidentially. To ensure proper and uninterrupted communication, extranet-based VPNs fulfill that role. That means all communication between two or more companies is safe (and separate from internal communication).

Site-to-Site or Remote-Access VPN? Which One’s Better? 

One of the most frequently asked questions today (regarding VPN services) relates to the differences between site-to-site VPNs and remote-access VPNs. So, here’s what you need to know.

  • site-to-site VPN is a permanent connection, creating a secure link between individual LANs. That’s how individual offices or branches can communicate with each other without the fear of their data being under threat. There’s no need for a software client, as this is a permanent connection.
  • remote-access VPN is a temporary connection, typically used when a single remote employee wants to connect to their company’s network. These connections are initialized from a software client, which encrypts the connection as long as its VPN tunnel is "alive." Once that ends, no encryption is present.

With that said, it all comes down to how a specific company is organized. At the moment, as the world still struggles with the Coronavirus pandemic, remote-access VPNs are more popular. That’s because employees work from their homes, which creates the need for individual VPN connections instead of site-to-site VPN connections.

That would be all there’s to know about site-to-site VPNs. If you have any questions or doubts on your mind, feel free to share them via the comments section below. And finally, thank you for reading!

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