What is a VPN? Part 1

Explained via a short story? Sure… Why not?!

You’re an employee at a large company, suddenly there’s a pandemic and in order to stay safe, your employer tells you that you have to work from home until further notice.   While you’re packing up important materials to prepare to stay home for an undetermined amount of time, you get an email from your IT department explaining how you can access sensitive data on the company’s servers from your computer while at home.  While quickly scanning the email, you notice the acronym “VPN” stand out several times and you realize that this “VPN” is probably what you’ll be using to get to the shared drive that your department uses on a day-to-day basis.  In all the commotion one of the IT guys walks by you and you stop and ask him if there’s something you need from the office in order to use to use the VPN from home, he replies with a simple no, instructs you to read the document IT emailed to everyone and walks away.

The next morning you turn on your work computer and start your search for your home network/SSID, you enter the password and you’re work computer is now using your internet.  You open your email client and search for the email about VPN, you open the attachment and proceed to read though it slowly.  Sure enough, the IT personnel in your office have created a well thought out, and very thorough step by step SOP (standard operating procedure).

Here is an excerpt of the document:

  • Connect your computer to your home network
  • Search for and launch the VPN client found in the installed applications of your computer.
  • Enter your network credentials that you would use in the office to login to your computer and various other network locations.
  • The VPN has now created a tunnel to the network in your office.


Now you go to windows explorer and find the shared folder you typically use at work but it has a red X on it.  There’s a reason for that but we won’t get into that here.  You read the bottom part of the email that was sent to you and it addresses exactly that scenario.  The solution is to simply click on the red X and suddenly the X is gone and you now have full access to your network.

In a nutshell, that is the idea behind VPN access.  Here is the textbook definition:

A VPN (Virtual Private Network), is a secured connection over the Internet from a device (like a home computer or mobile device) to a network.  The secured connection helps ensure that sensitive data is safely transmitted between the two connections.  It prevents unauthorized people from eavesdropping on the traffic and allows the user to conduct work remotely.

There is more to the VPN schema than both the story or the textbook definition explain. For example, unless your company has set up a configuration know as split tunnelling, you will not be able to access any devices on your home network. The reason is, the VPN tunnel is just that, a tunnel with only one other exit, it starts at your home and ends in the office.  There is unfortunately no offramps on the way to the office network.  It is simply more secure that way.

A common problem with using a VPN, is that the connection is sometimes much slower that your home network might be.  For example, if at your home you pay for 500 mega bits per second (mbps), and when you’re connected to the VPN, you might only get 100mbps maybe a little bit more or maybe a little bit less, but you will not get the full 500.  There are several components that contribute to this speed disparity.

  • The allotted data size the VPN tunnel can handle.
    • Companies might pay for smaller tunnels vs. larger ones
  • In terms of traffic, the usability of the tunnel.
    • 1 employee vs. 50 employees using the VPN at any given time
  • The time of the day or day of the week.
    • Business hours vs. Non-Business hours, weekdays vs. weekends
  • The traffic/speed -or lack thereof- in your home.
    • If you live alone you might only have 6 or 7 network devises using your internet. However, that number exponentially grows when you have more people using your home network. I’ve seen a family of four have over 55 devices connected at any given time


Most of the time, VPN services work well, the technology is very competitive and continues to evolve into a formidable service.  As we devour the amount of data that we use on a daily basis, we tend to be unforgiving when we look access even for just a few minutes let alone a day or two.  Companies are always trying to accommodate their staff and the business as a whole with keeping connections active and alive on a 24/7 basis, so I give them a lot of credit for what they accomplish day in and day out.

There is however a different function altogether for VPN’s, part 2 of this article addresses the privacy and alternate uses of a virtual private network.

Weekly Tech Gear Pick

New Tech Support Article


In order to grow our small business, Tech Home Setup earns revenue through affiliate links on our website.  We feature items we genuinely love and want to share with our audience.  This is an arrangement between the retailers we link to and Tech Home Setup (readers never pay more for products).  This is the way we support Tech Home Setup, which allows us to run the site and engage with this community we truly love.  Thank you for reading!