What to know when pricing VPNs and remote access software

Deciding which remote access solution to use is not a simple or quick decision for most people, and it doesn't matter if you work in a large enterprise, a midsized organization, a small business, or on a solo project. This is because there is a range of options that exist, each with its own features, quirks, potential security risks— and, of course, pricing options. Since price plays a role in most software purchase decisions, this post will present and critique some common remote access solutions, taking into account both the initial cost (sticker price) and any hidden costs that may become apparent after deployment.

Pricing VPNs

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the most common choices when it comes to remote access software. VPN solutions are available from a range of software companies, and can typically be used by individuals and organizations of any size. To shed some light on pricing VPNs and their costs (both upfront and hidden), let’s first take a look at a few examples of VPN software products and their pricing. Then we’ll discuss the potential hidden costs and security risks that may be lurking down the road after the VPN is deployed.

OpenVPN: “Free” remote access software

OpenVPN is a VPN solution that can be used to provide remote access for employees, network cloud data centers, and more. OpenVPN offers different options, depending on whether you want their Business VPN version (enterprise-scale remote access solutions) or a Consumer VPN. The least expensive route for OpenVPN is their Community Edition, which is open-source and free. They also offer Private Tunnel, "powered by OpenVPN", with a 7-day free trial; after that, you must choose between two paid plans. Their third option is OpenVPN Access Server, which is geared more towards enterprise clients, and offers several added paid features plus installation and configuration tools that can help speed up the deployment of the VPN. This version of OpenVPN has different license pricing options available; while the most widely used option is tiered billing through Amazon (AWS), they also offer "Bring Your Own License" as a way to utilize their solution three different ways: through Amazon, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud.

Tunnelblick: Free OpenVPN GUI

For Mac users, a choice to consider is Tunnelblick - a free, open-source GUI for OpenVPN on macOS that gives users “easy control of [an] OpenVPN client and/or server connections.” It is free to download and use as long as you comply with the open-source license.

Citrix: Enterprise VPNs

Citrix offers an SSL VPN solution, called Citrix Gateway, which provides access to an organization's network, applications, and data to users wishing to access them remotely. This remote access solution is geared mainly toward enterprises. Anyone can download and try Citrix Gateway for free, in their own environment, for up to 90 days. After that, the trial license would expire and the user would need to choose a paid plan. The Citrix Gateway licensing costs range from $55 to $995, depending on the type of license. One Gateway On-Premises Concurrent User (Universal) License would cost $55, while a Perpetual Concurrent User (Universal) License increases to $122. Turning to enterprises, a Gateway On-Premises Enterprise VPX License costs $549, while a Perpetual Enterprise VPX License costs roughly twice that ($995).

Hidden costs and risks of VPNs

“Free software” may sound good at first, if you’re trying to save your company money - but dig deeper and, in many cases, going free doesn’t turn out to be the best decision. For instance, while “open source” often means little or no upfront cost, will there be costs down the road? Support is typically not offered on these platforms, or it might only be available via highly technical internet bulletin boards. Do you have in-house experts to support this software?  Otherwise, you may end up paying for third-party technical support or suffering from lots of downtime. Additionally, open-source software requires specialized expertise to configure and maintain securely. If deploying an open-source solution leads to a future data breach or other compromised situation, the true final cost could become much higher than one expected. And paying for software is no guarantee of security.  As an example, let’s look at Citrix, the provider of enterprise VPNs. In March 2019, Citrix revealed that their internal network was accessed by hackers who stole sensitive data; all told, the Citrix security breach resulted in a loss of at least 6 TB of valuable information. It was an ironic situation: Citrix, a provider of software for securely accessing networks, discovered that its own network had been hacked. Citrix claimed they found no evidence that any of their products or services had been compromised - but would you want to take a chance with your data if they were wrong? If this breach did affect Citrix's VPN technology, what could that mean for your data if you chose their solution? What would the true cost of their solution be, if you had to deal with all the ramifications of a data breach? Be sure to research the history and reputation of any vendor you are considering. TunnelBlick is another illustrative example of potential costs after deployment. Several Mac apps, including Tunnelblick, used a component known as Sparkle Updater - and in 2016, a researcher found a flaw in Sparkle Updater that allowed him to set up a man-in-the-middle attack. Eventually, this security weakness was patched - but you have to wonder if Tunnelblick, and similar free products, might contain other flaws waiting to be exploited. Would you want to take that chance? Also, Tunnelblick is free, open-source software, and so (not surprisingly) it is maintained by volunteers. If something should go wrong, would you want your organization's remote access capability in the hands of volunteers who probably won't be available right away (if at all) to address your problem?

A safer, smarter remote access software solution

Imprivata offers the premier remote access solution, trusted by major organizations who require the safest, most dependable network access for their employees and third-party vendors. Our product is based on the “least privilege access” principle, and our solution is simply unmatched by VPNs or other software tools. We give our customers a truly secure remote access platform, with a suite of valuable services included, and a proven history of substantial cost savings after the solution is deployed. When it comes to remote access, any other choice just doesn't compare. While the information above is a good beginning to understanding the pricing options and cost considerations surrounding remote access, there’s more to explore: read this useful guide to learn about the five factors organizations should consider when calculating the ultimate, true cost of remote access.