In the world of virtual private networks, measuring up against competitors isn’t an easy task. A lot of the important stuff happens under the hood, on technical grounds that don’t easily translate into marketing quips. But you know what’s easy? Talking about server counts. When you can boast several thousand, then oooh baby, that’s a number marketing can use. But the truth is, VPN server counts don’t matter as much as you think.
What is a VPN server?
A server is a device that provides a service to a client. It’s called the “client-server” model, and that’s how every web-based service works.
In Counter-Strike, the server is the device hosting the match, and the client is the Counter-Strike copy you’re currently using to blame your poor performance on lag. In a VPN, the client is a VPN app on your device, while the server is the device that provides encryption and decryption, and forwards your data.
A VPN would not work without a server to provide encryption and routing.
Why are VPN server counts important?
Say you have a single VPN server in Prague. This means that every client connecting to your VPN server will connect via the Prague server.
This raises a few issues:
- All users will be getting IPs in the Czech Republic, which may not be what they desire.
- That server is going to get clogged up by traffic really fast.
- Users in Bolivia will experience a larger internet speed drop when connecting to Prague than users in other parts of Europe.
Regarding the first point, having a specific IP may be important for people who want to unlock specific foreign content (this includes Czech users).
As to the second point, it has to do with the fact that the internet’s physical infrastructure isn’t endless. The connections and the ports can only handle this much concurrent traffic before they break (if you’ve ever had an online store go offline during a sale, you know what I mean).
Speaking of the last one, the further a server is from the user, the more the data gets bounced around, leading to greater decreases in speed.
You remedy these issues by having more servers.
- More server locations means more options for people desiring IPs from specific countries.
- More servers means that you’re less likely to experience congestion.
- The closer a server is to a user, the faster the connection is.
Having 10 servers in Prague is a lot better than having just a single server in Prague. But having 10 servers each in Prague, Washing, Tokyo, Delhi, and Cape Town is even better.
Why VPN servers aren’t the most important VPN metric
Now that we have amply established why having more VPN servers is better, we can talk about why that isn’t the only thing that matters. This boils down to two things:
- Server locations
- Server infrastructure
The importance of server locations
We have already touched upon the importance of server locations. They determine speed drop depending on how far away the user is. So having more server locations spread around the globe (Surfshark has servers in 95 countries) means a more universal coverage for many more users around the world.
This is preferable to just having a handful of locations, even if they host a lot of servers. You can put a thousand servers in your Prague location, and it still wouldn’t do anything to improve the speeds for Bolivian users.
The importance of server infrastructure
And now for the second part: infrastructure. A server is a physical object, a device, and not all devices are made equal. That’s why you have so many price options when choosing an Android phone. And just like Android phones, some servers can be better than others.
Thus, having a lot of poorer servers helps with only one thing: traffic congestion. You’re always guaranteed to have your access to the server, but that access is going to be equally terrible. However, if you upgrade a server – for example, by using 1Gbps ports – that server can provide better bandwidth and suffer less congestion.
Incidentally, all Surfshark servers have at least a 1Gbps port, and we’re upgraded 50% of our infrastructure to 10Gbps servers – and we’re not planning to stop there. So instead of growing wide (by adding a lot of servers), we’ve grown tall (by increasing the efficiency and quality of our existing servers).
At the same time, we’re also very careful in balancing the load of our servers. This means that with many users connecting to a single location, they are spread around the servers established in that location to ensure the best speeds. And with SDN online, we can do even more.
Server number only takes you that far
A VPN provider having a good number of servers is great, but that’s not where it ends. It’s also important to see how many countries those servers cover and how developed the server infrastructure is. And here at Surfshark, we’re nothing if not dedicated to developing that infrastructure.