VPN for District Laptop Users

Over the course of the summer, one of the projects undertaken (and completed) by the IT Department’s technical staff was the deployment of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Wikipedia defines a VPN as follows:

A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network and the resources contained in the network across public networks like the Internet. It enables a host computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if it were a private network with all the functionality, security and management policies of the private network. This is done by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, encryption, or a combination of the two.

The VPN connection across the Internet is technically a wide area network (WAN) link between the sites but appears to the user as a private network link—hence the name “virtual private network”.

Source Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_private_network
(Retrieved December 4th, 2012)

A diagram from the same Wikipedia article helps to provide a visual for the concept of a VPN.

Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/00/
Virtual_Private_Network_overview.svg/640px-Virtual_Private_Network_overview.svg.png

(Retrieved December 4th, 2012)

Basically, for our district’s users, this means that if you connect to our district’s VPN with your sd62 username and password, your computer will behave as though it is on a network at your workplace (department or school).

Some of the advantages of connecting to our district’s VPN for work purposes are:

  • Security – VPN connections via the Internet are encrypted
  • Remote access to network files – If you save work on your H: Drive, you can access that drive via the VPN. Currently, this works best for users of district-owned laptops that have been configured by the district’s IT Department.
  • File Security – If all files are stored on your H: Drive, they are automatically (and incrementally) backed up using the district’s systems. Further, any files stored on H: are not stored locally on the computer. If the computer is lost or stolen, valuable data is protected from loss and possible exploitation.
  • Running Outlook instead of Outlook Web – The full version of Outlook still has more features than the web version.

One big disadvantage of connecting up to our district’s VPN concerns access speeds for files and for Internet browsing. If you’re opening a network file, that file is being transmitted via the Internet to your local computer, which is generally slower than your school or workplace’s internal network. Further, if you are trying to browse the web via the VPN, it won’t work very well for you. Your browser will try to download the web pages via your school or workplace’s Internet connection, and then send it to your local machine. If you are just browsing for information, it’s generally faster to use the local (home, or guest wireless) connection wherever you are when you go online.

District employees who have received a laptop configured by the IT Department since mid-summer have had the ability to connect to the VPN installed on their machines already. As this post is getting a little long, the step-by-step instructions for connecting to the VPN via a district laptop will be available in an upcoming and separate posting.

About Graham Arts

District Principal of IT
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