VPN concentrator: What is it and do you need one?

Working from home can be a blast. But how safe is it anyway? Dollars to doughnuts not as safe as you think. Therefore, more and more remote workers are turning to VPN (Virtual Private Network) concentrators for help. They’re great for big companies, but are they your best bet? And what are these things anyway? Let’s find out.

Table of contents

    What is a VPN concentrator?

    A VPN concentrator is a networking device that allows several VPN tunnels to run simultaneously with access to the main VPN network. In that sense, VPN concentrators are similar to VPN routers, just on a bigger scale.

    To paint a more vivid picture, imagine a typical cartoon sun: the middle part is the concentrator, and every ray of sunshine is a different VPN tunnel with an employee at the end of them using remote access.

    Dropping the analogy, VPN concentrators create multiple encrypted VPN tunnels simultaneously and generate an encrypted and secure connection between VPN nodes. As such, these concentrators manage several VPN connections from a remote location (usually the company’s main office). 

    One such tool can serve thousands of users at the same time and generate a VPN tunnel for each of them. With its help, employees can safely access the firm’s home network from anywhere in the world. 

    What does it do?

    a VPN concentrator network diagram showing how it works and connects remote employees.

    A VPN concentrator is typically used for managing VPN communication infrastructures. It connects multiple encrypted VPN tunnels together and provides safe communication within a company. It can: 

    Establish and configure tunnels
    Allow you to run several VPN tunnels at once easily.
    Authenticate users
    Ensure that only the company’s employees can access the corporate network and resources.
    Assign IP addresses to users
    Provide a different IP address to each employee.
    Encrypt data
    Guarantee that all shared data is encrypted.
    Ensure end-to-end delivery of files
    Protect and optimize the process of sharing files and other data between VPN tunnels.

    Do you need a VPN concentrator?

    If you’re working from home and just looking to secure your network, the answer is no. A VPN concentrator is useful for big companies and should be the concern of your workplace. If you’re a company representative looking to secure your corporate network while employees work remotely, a VPN concentrator may be the perfect solution.

    Of course, it all depends on your company’s size and needs. But if you want to make sure your employees can use a protected VPN network and still have full access to the company’s resources, nothing beats VPN concentrators.

    Let’s look at and compare your choices:

    Simple VPN
    VPN router
    VPN concentrator
    Users
    A family or single user
    Family with lots of devices or a very small business
    Medium to large business
    Network protection
    Protect your everyday devices
    Protect a single network, for example, a small office
    Protect every employee, including those in the office and those working remotely
    Remote devices
    Not possible with many VPN services
    Not possible with most VPN routers
    Can connect thousands of remote devices
    Encrypt data
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes

    How much does a VPN concentrator cost?

    VPN concentrator prices differ depending on the needs of your company. Some can easily handle 10 thousand clients, while others can’t support more than 10 simultaneous connections. 

    As you can guess, the bigger your company is, the higher the price will be. 

    Some of the cheapest VPN concentrators start at around 200 USD. However, the price can be a lot higher. For example, Cisco VPN concentrators can go up to 12 thousand USD.

    Types of VPN concentrators

    Most VPN concentrators you encounter will be based on dedicated hardware appliances. They can be sized for the number of connections you need. Alternatively, you can find appliances of dedicated hardware that will be able to encrypt and decrypt VPN tunnels. 

    For a business with tight budgets, there are open-source projects. They allow you to configure VPN concentrators on your own. However, that is often difficult and tedious. 

    The most popular VPN concentrators

    There are many VPN concentrator providers. And which one is the best for your business mostly depends on your needs. Nevertheless, I made a list of the most popular VPN concentrators you might encounter: 

    1. Cisco Meraki. One of the top producers of VPN concentrators. They are often simple to set up and ideal for extremely large businesses;
    2. ShoreTel. Common for the ability to set up telephone networks that encrypt IP phones; 
    3. Aruba. Offer practical tools for connecting remote users to your company network.

    VPN concentrator alternatives 

    VPN concentrator vs. site-to-site VPN

    Site-to-site VPNs are a great solution for businesses with more than one office. While VPN concentrators allow remote employees to access the same internal resources, site-to-site VPNs will connect many different offices and their resources together. Other than that, they provide the same function for companies. 

    VPN concentrator vs. VPN router

    Where site-to-site VPNs are good alternatives for bigger companies, VPN routers are best for smaller companies. They can be much cheaper than concentrators but, in turn, won’t be able to support that many connections. Each remote employee will also require a manual setup. In general, they are better suited for at-home use. 

    If you’re not a company, you probably want a VPN

    A VPN concentrator is an essential tool for big companies that wish to ensure the safety of their workflow. That being said, they are not for everyone. Most people looking to protect their traffic will be fine with a simple VPN. 

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    FAQ

    Are VPN concentrators still used? 

    Yes. Many companies still use them to protect work networks. 

    Is a VPN concentrator a firewall? 

    No. However, VPN concentrators often have preinstalled firewalls that will protect your network. 

    What is the difference between a VPN concentrator and a VPN server? 

    Comparing a VPN concentrator and a VPN server is much like comparing an apple pie with an apple. A VPN server is one of the “ingredients” that go into a VPN concentrator. A VPN concentrator allows several networks to be run through one VPN server, protecting each one of them. 

    Does a VPN concentrator aggregate hundreds or thousands of VPN connections? 

    Yes. Depending on the concentrator itself, it can support thousands of connections.