Split Tunnel vs a Full Tunnel VPN: What's the Difference?

May 3, 2024

When we talk about configuring our network with Netmaker, you'll often hear us mention a "split tunnel" VPN as the standard setup.

What is a Split Tunnel VPN?

Let's say you're working remotely, and you need to access files on a server sitting in your office. In a split tunnel setup, this request would be directed through the VPN tunnel, right to your office network, ensuring security and direct access without exposing this traffic to the wider internet.

It’s especially useful for if, let's say, you've got a development team spread out geographically, but they need secure, direct access to a test environment hosted in your data center. With a split tunnel setup, their connection to this environment is secure and direct, without rerouting all their internet browsing through the office network. It’s efficient, secure, and doesn't compromise on speed.

Benefits of a Split Tunnel VPN

Netmaker configures a split tunnel VPN by default, and you're able to directly connect to your resources safely and securely, without rerouting all your internet traffic. This means while you're pushing code to your company's repository, your music stream on another tab isn't going through the VPN, keeping your connection swift and your music uninterrupted.

This setup shines when considering the diversity of internet usage patterns within a team. For instance, someone in your team may need to access cloud VPCs or data centers for work, while another might only need internet access for research or communication. With split tunneling, each person's needs are met without compromising network security or performance.

What is a Full Tunnel VPN?

With a full tunnel VPN, instead of your data scattering into the cyberspace directly from your remote location, it first goes through a gateway - for example, an Internet Gateway that we've introduced at Netmaker.

For instance, let's say your company has a robust firewall setup, comprehensive monitoring, and a specific whitelist for web traffic. Normally, this protective bubble wraps around your office network, leaving out your remote devices and users. But with a full tunnel VPN, your remote device's internet traffic is routed through a device in your office network first. It's like your device is physically in the office, even if you're actually sipping a latte in a café miles away.

Plus, thanks to Netmaker using WireGuard, there isn't a compromise on speed or efficiency. With the ability to choose which devices use this full tunnel, the customization options are vast. You can tailor the setup to fit exactly what you and your company need, without having to overhaul your existing configurations.

Benefits of a Full Tunnel VPN

A full tunnel shines in simplifying IT management. Think of a scenario where IT has to ensure all remote devices comply with company policies and standards. Instead of managing security settings on each device individually, routing all traffic through the office network via a full tunnel VPN means these devices are subject to the same rules and monitoring as those on-prem. This not only reduces the IT department's workload but also standardizes security measures across the board.

Full tunnel VPNs offer an extra layer of privacy for your internet activities. In an age where data is gold, keeping your internet browsing and data transfers away from prying eyes can be important.

Drawbacks of a Full Tunnel VPN

First off, let's talk about speed. When you route all your internet traffic through a single gateway, especially if that gateway is halfway around the world, you're going to see some lag.

Then there's the bottleneck issue. This is when all your traffic is trying to squeeze through that one gateway. If you've got a lot of users or devices doing this at the same time, things can get clogged up pretty quickly.

This isn't just about speed; it's about reliability too. One gateway means a single point of failure. If that gateway goes down, everybody's internet access goes kaput.

Privacy concerns are another angle to consider. With a full tunnel VPN, your gateway sees all your internet traffic. For some, this might be uncomfortable, knowing that all their digital comings and goings are visible in one place.

Choosing a Split Tunnel or Full Tunnel VPN

So, while full tunnel VPNs have their place, Netmaker’s default of a split tunnel VPN can be ideal. Choosing between a split tunnel and a full tunnel VPN ultimately depends on your specific needs regarding security, privacy, performance, and the nature of the tasks at hand.

If your organization's priority is flexibility and speed for remote workers who need access to local and internet resources without compromising on the performance of non-sensitive tasks, a split tunnel VPN is likely the better choice. However, if comprehensive security and centralized control over internet traffic are paramount, a full tunnel VPN would be more suitable. Assessing the specific requirements and challenges of your network will guide you in making the most appropriate choice for your needs.

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