For most VPN users, hardware isn’t an issue. The vast majority of people use software-based VPNs, and aren’t even aware that hardware VPN options exist. However, as this guide will explain, VPN hardware can be a very useful security solution for both home and business users.

What is VPN hardware?

When we talk about VPN hardware, what do we mean? Well, firstly, there are major differences between software-based VPNs and a hardware VPN solution. The biggest difference is contained in the name. Hardware VPN usually refers to a VPN service that runs on a network router.

With a hardware VPN, everything the VPN needs to do is handled by a standalone piece of tech. This device will deal with the authentication procedures and encryption processes which lie at the heart of any VPN and may also provide a special firewall for extra safety. VPNs require a lot of computational power and, depending on the load, some routers may require an additional processor to run smoothly.

This is very different from a software VPN, where the authentication and encryption processes are carried out by a client on the user’s computer. However, hardware VPNs do tend to require a hardware VPN client to operate, so they aren’t purely separate from computers and other digital devices.

VPN hardware for home users

It’s very possible to set up VPN hardware in your own home, although it does take a little bit more time and effort (and sometimes money) than using an affordable software based provider.

Why would you want to make the effort to set up a hardware VPN solution? Actually, there are quite a few advantages. First of all, with VPN hardware, device management can be easier. All of your devices can be protected via a central router, allowing users to add Amazon Fire Sticks, PlayStation 4 consoles, computers, and tablets onto a single VPN-protected network. That definitely beats installing clients on all devices that require protection.

Secondly, a hardware VPN client will always be active, or at least it will be active for as long as your router is turned on. So there’s no need to remember activating your client. It just slips into gear and protects you automatically – a neat fail-safe for some users. This can also make them more accessible for younger web users, who might struggle with standard VPN login procedures.

Finally, having VPN hardware for home use makes it easier to add new devices to your collection without worrying about security. This can be a big help for people who like the idea of the Internet of Things, but have some reservations about privacy and security.

VPN hardware for business users

What about VPN hardware for business? If anything, hardware VPN solutions are more popular among professional users. Due to their adaptability and reliability, they often represent the most efficient and effective enterprise-wide solution for network security.

Of these two considerations, adaptability is probably the more important one. When you manage a business network, the composition of that network can change daily. New users might bring in laptops, workstations might come on or offline – it’s a recipe for confusion.

If you rely on software VPNs, it can also be a recipe for poor security. Each device would need to have the VPN uploaded and activated, and staff would need to be disciplined enough to run the client every time they log on. This might not happen, and even if it does, it can waste time that could be spent on other tasks. So implementing VPN hardware for business makes sense. It takes human error (largely) out of the equation, and makes life easier for the staff.

Moreover, there are significant cost considerations for businesses to think about. Implementing VPN hardware can work out much cheaper than installing a reliable VPN solution on every computer. And that’s even before you factor in the potential cost of poor security practices. So it’s easy to see why companies often favor VPN hardware devices over purely software-based versions.

Hardware VPN: Pros and cons

We’ve touched on a few of the strengths and weaknesses of hardware VPNs, but it’s probably better to quickly run through what many people see as their pros and cons, so here goes:

Pros

  • Can be easily adapted by adding new devices
  • More cost effective for larger organizations
  • Saves the time of staff in many workplaces
  • Takes human error out of the VPN equation

Cons

  • Initial setup and equipment costs can be high
  • Demand more technical knowledge than software VPNs
  • Cannot easily be updated or exchanged for other VPN solutions

Understanding hardware VPN costs

One question that is regularly asked about hardware VPNs revolves around costs. The perception is that hardware VPNs are a more expensive option than software varieties, and there’s a lot of truth in that.

Estimates vary, but one expert has calculated the cost of setting up a VPN hardware device for a workforce of 1,000 people at around $8,000 per year. That includes initial setup costs, and also factors in ongoing maintenance. So it’s not a huge outlay for larger companies.

Best Hardware VPN devices

If you’ve weighed up the merits of software and hardware VPN solutions and decided on the latter, what kind of equipment should you think about sourcing?

At home, something like the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM or the Asus RT-AC86U will do just fine. Both come with intelligently designed firmware which caters for various VPN solutions and aren’t too complex for home users to set up, while the manufacturers offer great customer support.

For businesses, something more powerful will be required. Devices like the Linksys LRT224 can handle 50 IPSec tunnels simultaneously and is adapted for smartphone users as well, so it should cater for most modern workforces

If you intend to take your VPN on the road, it might be sensible to opt for portable hardware VPN routers. A portable hardware VPN, like the GL-AR150 mini router, comes with gold standard tools like OpenVPN and is small enough to carry to your neighborhood Starbucks or college library.

In any case, read reviews and specs, and think about whether you need a hardware or software VPN. Either is within reach, and both offer some major benefits.