Instructor: David Delony

David is a freelance writer specializing in technology. He holds a BA in communication.

In this lesson, you'll learn the key differences between SSH and VPN for accessing remote servers and networks and which job is best for one or the other by looking at two typical users, Alice and Bob.

Why SSH or VPN

You have a choice of technologies when it comes to remote access. Two of the biggest are SSH and VPN. Which one should you choose? It depends on the kind of access you're trying to offer. Let's follow Alice and Bob, who work for the XYZ company, to see how SSH and VPN work in practice.


Alice is a system administrator for the XYZ company. She's in charge of the various servers for her department. Some of them are file servers, some are web servers running the company's various intranet applications, and some are email servers.

Lately, the company's been making a push for cloud computing to cut costs. XYZ already has a large data center but it costs money to buy the servers, upgrade them, and keep them cool.

The cloud provider the company's contracted with is fine, but their physical servers are located in another city. It's not practical for Alice to fly over there and make configuration changes to the virtual servers, even if the company would let her.

Fortunately, there's an easy way for Alice to access these servers. She uses SSH to log into them remotely, because as an IT person she's already very familiar with the Linux command line that the servers use.

She knows that her login session is safe because it's encrypted. A hacker won't be able to read her username and password if one manages to intercept the connection, because the text coming through will just look garbled. This means she can even log in through public connections, like the Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop.

If Alice needs to make a quick change, she can just log in and do it securely.


Bob is a sales manager for XYZ, and he travels quite a bit for his job to the company's other branches around the country, as well as to other clients. He needs to access his company email, CRM system, and other resources on his company Intranet, even when out of the office.

Fortunately, Alice has set up his company-issued laptop to connect to the company's VPN server.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and does exactly what it says. VPN offers remote access to a company's network from the outside. Like SSH, it uses encryption, but offers access to a whole network instead of just one machine.

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