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We have a rather conventional Windows shop with MS Server 2003 and corresponding Exchange services at a single site. We have some offsite (travelling laptops, stationary workstations) systems that are modern Windows-based.

We have a Cisco Router RV082 that purportedly supports VPNs. We bought this because it declared it addressed the VPN problem. We are looking for a VPN client that isn't full of trap doors. Cisco provides their own VPN client, which one would expect to be compatible with thier router, but we cannot discover how to make it work reliably; the Cisco website docs are pretty much useless, and user queries at their site are full of complaints about it not working with no responses from Cisco people. Finally, they claim support for this is ending. [How can they sell this stuff?]

We have one internal LAN connected to the MS server, a Linux http:// server, Cisco router, and 2 printers at fixed IP addresses (192.168.1.x) and modest number (~~20) DHCP-allocated IP-address workstations.

Our needs:

  • A VPN client that we can install on laptops and systems outside our server LAN. Paid is OK if the price is modest.
  • Client to enable file system access to our Windows Server.
  • Client to enable http:// access to web servers on our local LAN (both the MS Server and the Linux box).
  • Client to enable access to the fixed-IP address printers.
  • Does not add dependency on some 3rd party outside system or cloud.

  • Bonus points: resolves machine names on the LAN using MS name management protocols.

I'm astonished at how hard this seems to do. Is it the case the everybody else on the planet is capable of doing this and we just don't know how (I'd believe that)? If you've had good success, please respond with your solution.

Perhaps my problem isn't the VPN client; maybe it is just discovering how to get everything configured. If you don't have a recommendation for an easily configured (that means has good documentation about how to do it!) VPN client, then maybe a suggestion for where to look for appropriate documentation would be really useful (even if that's technically out of scope for SR).

EDIT with bounty still active:

All two of the answers provided so far seem to come with some kind of cloud dependency on the vendor. It appears that all the vendors are trying to insert some permanent dependency in our networks to make us pay an annual fee. I see how that works for them. The benefit to me seems pretty small, if not negative. Isn't all the VPN machinery already in our MS servers and Linux boxes? Why do I want to add yet another party to the process?

EDIT: Bounty awarded. It served its purpose in attracting a number of fairly interesting answers. It is unfortunate that none of them was an obvious hands-down winner; the best of the lot in my judgement still requires that I actually go fool with it to see if it passes the configurability tests and there was not time in the bounty window to do that. In this case I would have liked to split the bounty more or less equally across all the answers, but SE offers no way to do that. So I awarded the bounty to the one that looked the most promising.

However, I want to offer my thanks to all that responded.

  • 2
    My guess as to why there aren't any answers is just that this site is too low-traffic at the moment. It's extremely hit-or-miss. One option (not ideal, I know) is to take a look around at other SE sites (maybe Server Fault?) just to get a sense of what other folks are using. They probably have a similar recommendations policy as Stack Overflow, but at least you might get a feel for what's popular, what's troublesome, etc. Maybe even ask directly for tips on how to configure your existing VPN setup (might be an in-scope question on Server Fault). – John Y Nov 11 '14 at 15:30
  • Your problem is probably with the client. They also use Cisco VPN where I work, and I couldn't set up the Cisco client from my laptop either. It's not supported and hardly documented. I ended up using VPNC, which worked perfectly with minimal configuration, but I've only been using it on Linux. There seems to be a beta Windows front end for VPNC. Maybe you could see if it's compatible with your already set-up Cisco server – Tymric Nov 12 '14 at 20:37
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+200

Another option is NeoRouter. It's a cross-platform VPN solution that requires little configuration. It's made specifically for use by homes and small business and has detailed documentation with slides and videos on how to set up and configure. It has a free and paid versions, the paid one comes with 1 year of technical support. Features:

  • Free and paid VPN clients, depending on your needs. A table of features for free and professional versions can be found here.
  • File system access using CIFS/Samba or FTP
  • Proxy support for http access
  • Access to network printers

Quote:

NeoRouter mobilizes your office network and enables you and your teammates to work securely from anywhere. Work remotely and access office applications, files, emails and printers...

I tested it between my home PC and an Android phone. It was fairly easy to set up and access files


Edit regarding cloud dependency:

You have the option to choose hosted or standalone domains when you create them, so cloud-dependency is just a feature, not a requirement:

enter image description here

  • This, too, has some kind of cloud dependency? – Ira Baxter Nov 15 '14 at 20:54
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    @IraBaxter NeoRouter Mesh is a cloud-depenedent subscription service, but NeoRouter Professional is not. It's has a lifetime license that you purchase once. You can see that under Feature Matrix on the product page – Tymric Nov 15 '14 at 20:57
  • Ah, that sounds better. I'll go take a look. – Ira Baxter Nov 15 '14 at 20:57
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    Bounty awarded to this answer, not because it specifically solved my problem but because it looks on the face of it to be a nice solution. I have yet to go experiment with it. – Ira Baxter Nov 18 '14 at 12:16
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I think Hamachi from LogMeIn would suit your needs https://secure.logmein.com/products/hamachi/

You can create VPNs on the go. I use it for creating VPN to play local LAN games with my friends who are abroad. We all login to the same VPN (password protected, data encrypted using the same technology as banks use) and play.

If all your devices (local or not) are connected to the Hamachi created Network all the software you are running will see them as local. For example you can print to the network connected printer as long as both belong in the same VPN

  • So this has some kind of cloud dependency? What purpose does the cloud serve? – Ira Baxter Nov 15 '14 at 20:53
  • What do you mean? – John Demetriou Nov 16 '14 at 10:17
  • I'm only guessing here, but if people on ADSL links want a VPN to connect them, and they can't easily accept incoming connections, then they need some infrastructure somewhere that can accept incoming connections. OP doesn't need this provided for them, but most gamers probably do. – mc0e Nov 17 '14 at 13:27
2

I like pfsense. (an open source firewall-router)

It has multiple VPN capabilities, I would suggest openVPN. Let's see how it meets your requirements:

  • A VPN client that we can install on laptops and systems outside our server LAN: use the openVPN client export utility package
  • Client to enable file system access to our Windows Server: If I understand you correctly it does that.
  • Client to enable http:// access to web servers on our local LAN (both the MS Server and the Linux box). Client to enable access to the fixed-IP address printers: this too
  • Does not add dependency on some 3rd party outside system or cloud: Not even an option.
  • Bonus points: resolves machine names on the LAN using MS name management protocols: I think it does that too by enabling the dns server for it.

Setting it up is tricky, find a good tutorial (e.g. here is a video tutorial). Though overall, pfsense is fairly easy to use.

  • I already have routers and servers, presumably with all the protocols I can stand built in. Why do I want to add another network computer to the pile? (Maybe you are suggesting I replace my Cisco router?) I see you suggest OpenVPN. – Ira Baxter Nov 18 '14 at 12:25
  • I suggest it as an easy way to implement openVPN. If you want, you can replace your cisco router with it. (but some use it as a vpn appliance) – adgelbfish Nov 18 '14 at 13:33
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Tinc VPN might be a free and lightweight cross-platform alternative. It is not dependent on some cloud service and it can find the optimal route if your company network is stretched accross locations. It only provides you with the additional network, all the file server and printer stuff would have to be handled by the normal programs accessing the internal IPs. As a plus, the encryption can be chosen in such a way, to benefit from algorithms optimised for the CPU inbuilt crypto-functions.

There is also a possible downside: In Windows you do not have a GUI, just the service to start or to stop (I actually do not mind the missing GUI and config files are compatible across systems). There is no official iOS client, so not really ready for mobile use. Furthermore there were some security concerns in the 1.0 version, which are mentionend on the projects homepage.

I cannot judge on security, but I am happy with perfomance and overhead of the solution.

1

Looking around the private VPN providers, there are a small number of protocols in widespread use. In particular, OpenVPN, PPTP, IPSec. There are any number of clients for these. The configuration is full of detail you probably don't want to know about, but I'd look for a system built on top of one of these protocols.

That said, after working server support (up to about 4 years ago) for a company where most of our clients had their own VPNs, and every one was different, I'd have to say that when well configured, the Cisco ones were the easiest for us to use. The windows client was poor, but we mostly didn't need to use it, and in fact mostly didn't use windows. I used vpnc from linux, I'm not sure about the mac guys.

With the windows client, I'm a bit vague now about the detail now, but as I recall we had to keep toggling the client back and forth between tcp and udp. I.e. the connection might be TCP, but when not working, we switched it to UDP and back again and then it worked. I might have that the wrong way around, but basically just try toggling it back and forth. Certainly that's annoying, but most VPNs I saw people using were worse.

  • Explain more about the toggling business? How did you detect "not working", and what did you do to toggle it? Who did the toggling? Most VPN users want/need to be clueless about how all this stuff works. – Ira Baxter Nov 18 '14 at 12:06
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    I'm not saying you want to know about this, just that we found it possible to use the Cisco windows client this way. Basically we put up with whatever crap or clients gave us and charged them enough to make it worthwhile. We as users toggled the setting. Open settings, switch between UDP and TCP, attempt connection which fails, open settings again and switch back, connection now works. Cisco's VPN is IPSEC, so other clients are available. – mc0e Nov 19 '14 at 3:06

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