Different Types of VPNs and When to Use Them (Updated 2020)
There are many different types of VPNs out there. Wondering which type is right for you? We'll teach you all about the differences between them and help you choose the best VPN for your needs. Share
Maybe you’ve been using a VPN service for a while now. Or, you’ve just finished our beginner’s guide and are hungry for more knowledge on VPNs. Either way, you’d like to know all about the various types of VPNs and where/when they’re useful.
The truth is virtual private networks come in many different shapes. It can be overwhelming to distinguish between the technologies used, let alone understand which type is the optimal choice for your needs.
Allow us to help you out! We’ll try to give you a concise, informative overview of the important variables that divide virtual private networks into several categories – from environment and setup to protocols and features. By the end, you’ll have a clear idea of the different types of VPNs, as well as the best services to use for your specific needs.
But before we start with that, there’s something you should know…
Network vs Service: The Main Difference
Often times, you’ll see the “VPN” abbreviation refer to a service provider that offers virtual private networks to its users.
However, it’s important to make the difference between VPN services and VPN technology. This can be a little confusing for newcomers, so we’ll try to give you a short and clear explanation.
Simply put, a virtual private network by itself is the secure, private connection between your device and the endpoint – or your destination. It utilizes a certain VPN protocol to encrypt and mask your traffic. This is the VPN technology working to keep your data safe.
By contrast, VPN services can be viewed as a package that may include several types of VPN technology, along with additional benefits – from ease of use (via native clients and automatic setup settings) to extra help (like customer support, configuration guides, FAQ sections, and knowledge bases).
In other words, think of your VPN service as your virtual toolbox that improves and reinforces your internet connection. It has (hopefully) a bunch of useful devices and gadgets that come in handy during your browsing sessions – these range from VPN protocols and security features, to auto-connect settings and real-time live chat support.
The bottom line? You may only be able to use one type of VPN technology at a time, but in most cases, you’ll have the choice to switch between them via your VPN service. The best VPN providers support a great deal of VPN protocols and features, allowing you to pick the most suitable type depending on your needs, or resort to your backup connection and settings if you’re experiencing issues with your current setup.
The term “VPN” has become synonymous with “VPN service”, and for good reason. With that in mind, in this article we’ll be looking at the various types of VPN services available to the common user – but remember that, depending on context, this abbreviation can refer to something more specific as well. For more information on the technology behind virtual private networks, check out our guide to VPN tunneling.
The Three Main Types of VPNs
VPNs can be divided into three main categories – remote access, intranet-based site-to-site, and extranet-based site-to-site. Individual users are most likely to encounter remote access VPNs, whereas big businesses often implement site-to-site VPNs for corporate purposes.
Let’s take a closer look at the different types.
Remote Access VPN
Ever had a VPN service for personal use before? If so, you already have some experience with the most popular type of VPN nowadays – the remote access VPN.
Simply put, remote access VPNs connect the user to a secure remote server in order to access a private network. The added encryption ensures that security isn’t compromised.
This is the foundation upon which the so-called commercial VPN services are built. Such providers allow you to use their own network when surfing the internet, hiding your sent and received data from local networks. As a result, you can browse away in privacy, access content on the internet that’s otherwise restricted to your regular connection, and keep your data safe from hackers and snoopers.
The main benefits of remote access VPNs are easy setups and hassle-free use. With the right software, this type of VPN can be easily accessible to newcomers and veterans alike, and is ideal for personal use. However, it may be unsuitable for (and even incompatible with) large-scale business needs.
Site-to-site VPNs work in a different manner – their main goal is providing multiple users in various fixed locations with the ability to access each other’s resources.
Here’s a simple explanation: you’re working in the London branch of a big company, and you’re currently collaborating with employees from the Berlin branch. Thanks to the site-to-site VPN you’re using, your local area networks (LANs) are both connected to the same wide area network (WAN) – in other words, you can securely share the information and resources between each other.
The above is an example of an intranet-based site-to-site VPN. The other type is extranet-based, and it’s used when a connection between two separate intranets is required, but without the possibility of one accessing the other directly. An example of that would be two separate companies working together.
Site-to-site VPNs are common in large-scale business environments where secure communication between departments all over the world is absolutely crucial. With that said, they aren’t easy to implement, as they require specialized equipment and serious resources. In addition, this type of VPN technology is built with a purpose, and doesn’t offer the flexibility that’s found in commercial VPN services.
The Different Types of VPNs – in Detail
If you’re an individual user looking to protect your privacy and access the internet without any blocks, then you’re most likely interested in a commercial VPN service. But don’t think this answers all your questions – commercial VPN services can be wildly different on their own.
VPN providers may offer different kinds of services, depending on the customer base they’re trying to attract or the niche they’re attempting to fill. To help you understand the finer details, we’ve divided these VPN services into a few categories, based on the following criteria: scale, available protocols, privacy, and price.
1. VPNs for Business or Pleasure
When looking at a VPN’s two major purposes – business or personal use – you can either get a service tailored to meet the needs of large enterprises, or a service that focuses on individual users.
Business-oriented VPNs are marked by several specific features that facilitate the process of setting up, deploying, and managing VPN connections for companies.
Perimeter 81 is one example of a VPN for businesses – it combines cloud technology, ease of use, and full control of your network from an intuitive control panel. What’s more, you can easily scale up or down, as there’s no need for external hardware.
ExpressVPN represents the other type of service – it caters mainly to individual users looking for the ultimate performance. Thanks to the arsenal of features and excellent privacy, it can also work really well as a VPN for small businesses. However, it’s not the ideal choice for organizations that need a dedicated business package or access to the same private network.
Then, there are VPNs that offer an amazing service for both kinds of users. NordVPN falls in that category – individual users will appreciate the 5,000+ servers and numerous security features, while enterprises of all sizes can get static IPs, administrator accounts, scaling options, and a dedicated account manager for all their business-related needs.
2. Multi-protocol and Single-protocol VPNs
Editor’s note: If you’re interested in the various VPN protocols and how they stack up against each other, you may want to check out our VPN protocol comparison.
As we mentioned earlier, many VPN services are versatile and offer users multiple protocols. Others prefer to support several variations of one protocol, due to design philosophy or limited resources.
The main advantage of multi-protocol VPNs is the number of options they give you. Providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost support all the major protocols – from IKev2/IPSec to the all-around favorite OpenVPN. They also offer SSL/TLS encryption, and sometimes even proprietary protocols based on OpenVPN – like VyprVPN’s Chameleon protocol, or HotSpot Shield’s Catapult Hydra. Having variety in protocols is important for bypassing censorship, eliminating VPN blocks, or streaming videos effectively.
Other providers, such as ProtonVPN and AirVPN, choose to focus on a single protocol – usually OpenVPN, as it’s open-source and currently considered the most secure option. While there’s no real advantage to having just one protocol at your disposal, VPN services that exclusively use OpenVPN can be just as robust and reliable. However, if your single-protocol VPN isn’t based on OpenVPN, you should definitely look at another service. For the reasons why, check out our article on which VPN protocol to use.
3. No-Logging VPNs and the Rest
As far as user privacy is concerned, there are two types of VPN services – those that keep zero logs, and all others.
VPNs who are serious about their no-logging policy are usually registered in exotic locations with lenient legislation, or countries with long traditions of respecting and preserving people’s privacy. Examples include NordVPN (Panama), ExpressVPN (British Virgin Islands), CyberGhost (Romania), and Trust.Zone (Seychelles), among others.
There are plenty of reputable VPN services that live up to their promise of providing excellent privacy, but are registered in unfavorable locations. US-based providers like Private Internet Access and TorGuard come to mind – even though such services haven’t given users a reason to be suspicious, there’s always a risk.
Other providers (e.g. VyprVPN and TunnelBear) do store minimal logs, but are transparent about it in their privacy policies. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unreliable – as long as they’re upfront, you know where they stand – but they aren’t ideal if spotless privacy is the driving factor.
4. Premium, Budget, and Free VPNs
According to their price, VPNs are generally divided into premium, budget, and free services.
Premium VPNs are where you’ll find most of the leading providers. As the name implies, these services stand out with their level of equipment, as well as their overall combination of privacy, security, and performance.
For example, NordVPN has its own security suite and rare, but useful features like obfuscation for challenging VPN blocks, Onion over VPN, and anti-DDoS servers. ExpressVPN is another acclaimed premium service, which is widely considered to have the fastest speeds on the market along with valuable extras like split tunneling.
Premium VPNs are also marked by intuitive clients for all major platforms and helpful, responsive customer support with live chat included. Of course, all of this comes at a price. These VPNs are on the expensive side, especially if you prefer one-month plans – however, their long-term offerings often compensate for that with great discounts.
Budget VPNs are on the opposite side – the price is usually their biggest strength. In some cases, these affordable services are good enough to reach premium status in some aspects.
Private Internet Access is one of the cheapest VPNs around, yet it gives you 3,000+ servers, SOCKS5 proxy support, and a kill switch. Still, there’s a reason why it’s in the budget category – other aspects of the service, like customer support and overall speeds, aren’t on the level of most premium providers.
PrivateVPN is another budget service that’s truly impressive for its price. Thanks to its on-site server network and high-quality support, it’s often compared against premium VPNs. But with just around 80 servers, it’s most suitable for those in need of a compact, low-profile service.
In short, the main difference between premium and budget VPNs (besides the cost) is that the former offer a complete package without cutting any corners, while the latter are able to offer an affordable service by prioritizing the essentials.
The third type – free VPNs – can be decent alternatives for casual use, but they often come with severe restrictions and/or huge security risks. If you want to use a VPN while saving yourself some money, we recommend taking advantage of premium services and their free trials. Some VPNs such as TunnelBear, ProtonVPN, and Windscribe offer permanent free versions that are worth checking out – if you can deal with the limitations.
Here’s the thing: there are many different types of VPNs, and the right one for you can range from a budget pick with basic functionality for casual use, to an advanced and feature-rich service that has to excel in multiple categories. In other words, the answer to the question “what is the perfect VPN for you?” depends heavily on your needs and expectations.
Even if you have a clear idea of your requirements, choosing a reliable service that performs as well as it advertises itself can be a challenge, between the countless VPNs available today.
We can help with that. Take a look below, where you’ll find various suggestions depending on the type of VPN you need!
If you’re in need of a professional privacy solution for your enterprise, a solid VPN with business-oriented features is a wise choice. Alternatively, users who want a feature-rich, dependable VPN for personal use should check out the best all-around VPN services.
Is privacy your top concern? In that case, you shouldn’t make any compromises – no-logs VPNs are the perfect picks for you.
For those who wish to have military-grade encryption, as well as tight protection on home and public networks, you’ll want a VPN that stands out with its security.
Is price a deciding factor? For budget VPNs, you can’t go wrong with these top services.
There are even a few great free VPNs you can use – they may not be the ideal choice, but could work as a temporary solution while money’s tight.
Lastly, if you’ll settle for nothing but the best, there are three leading VPN services you should pay special attention to.
NordVPN is an awesome multi-purpose VPN with the perfect balance between price and performance, in addition to heavy focus on security. ExpressVPN is the VPN of choice for speed, and a no-brainer for those who simply want proven privacy and the fastest VPN-protected connection possible – at any cost. And if you’d rather have a brilliant interface that does all the work for you, check out CyberGhost – its premade profiles will help you get ready for everything from casual surfing to secure torrenting in just a few clicks.