All the materials that you read online refer to acronyms that you don’t understand (or don’t want to care about). And the most frustrating part, from a user’s point of view, is that all the solutions seem to be written for techie people, not for a regular user who just wants an easy-to-understand solution. Those articles all deal with concepts evolving around SSL, IPSec, PPTP, 3DES, … What? Do the solution providers expect a regular user to be able to understand those concepts before choosing a solution? Can’t they just provide a solution tailored to a specific need?
For this case study, let’s just pretend that you have decided to go for a VPN solution as you think it can solve the following problem: you are a remote worker from another country that needs to access some resources that are geographically restricted to some country; unfortunately, the country you are based isn’t included in the “allowed” list (for example Hulu, Pandora, Veoh, ABC player, …)
Here are criteria for this specific situation that you can refer to for choosing your VPN provider:
Criteria 1: Choose a VPN solution provider that has a “landing” point in the “allowed” country
This is the most obvious part. Ask your VPN provider to give you a list of available “landing” point in the country you want to target. This usually means that, if you want to access a service that is restricted to US-users, for example, then you need to go for a VPN package that will give you a US-based IP address.
As more and more services on the internet are now targeting local customers, it is expected that some web services will be limited to some states or cities – when such conditions arise, then you’ll need to ask for the VPN provider for an IP address that will be geo-located to that city, then check it at IP-address-locator to find out the city/state where this IP belongs to according to the whole internet
Criteria 2: Is encryption a must?
For this case study, all you need is a landing point in the country/state that you are targeting. This actually means that you don’t necessarily have to bother about all those encryption techniques that the VPN solution provider is competing against each other – whether it is PPTP, IPSec, or whatever else. All you need is a package that is able to “mask” you behind an IP address that is located in your target country/state- all VPN solution provides you with that feature.
Criteria 3: Are there any limitations?
Be careful with the fine line in the contract that is handed to you. You’ve got to be aware of few limitations that may come bundled with any package. As an example, most of the time VPN providers will not allow peer-to-peer traffic to go through their VPN implementation. This is mainly because IP addresses are limited resources on the internet and they can’t afford to have their IP address blacklisted due to some fraudulent peer-to-peer connections as it will have an impact on all of their customers.
Moreover, be careful about bandwidth limitations as some VPN providers may set some limits. As a rule of thumb, if you are planning to watch videos or download big files from your VPN connection (Are there free torrent VPN providers?), then you’d better stay away from VPN packages that have bandwidth limitations set.
Criteria 4: What are the reviews about this VPN provider?
This is just another attitude that every customer should have. Google for “xxxVPN review” (where xxxVPN is the VPN solution provider you are considering) and make up your mind from third-party reviews. Eventually, ask for questions on places like Yahoo Answers to get more reviews.
Criteria 5: Test their support system. How quick and efficient are they?
Ask questions about their support system and see how reactive and professional they are. While this may not be a good benchmarking for their technical support once you’ve joined their program, this just gives you a rough idea of their quality of service. Don’t forget to check their opening hours too (be careful with the time zone difference). Moreover, check if they support a language that you are familiar with – this is really helpful when trouble-time come and you need to communicate. Finally, check the available channels where their support is available: is it through e-mail, phone, chat, Skype, forum, …
Criteria 6: Check your operating system compatibility
Is their VPN client compatible with your operating system? The best way to check it is to ask their support (though verifying “criteria #5”). Please be sure to be the most precise possible when sending your current operating system (for example Windows 7 premium, Service Pack 1, Ubuntu 11.04, …)
Criteria 7: How easy is the installation process?
The main thing to consider here is: are you comfortable with the provided installation tools. The easiest solution will give you an installation package and a short “installation guide”. Check that an installer is available for your operating system. Most of the time, VPN solutions that only gives a documentation (without an installer) are difficult to implement for a user with a profile who “just needs a solution that works”
I’ve purposely written this article from a user’s point of view, without getting too much into technical details. I hope this list helped you choose your VPN provider.
Now, tell us in the comment section why you need a VPN solution and we can come up with another “7 criteria” type of article for your own case.