Whether you are a small firm expanding to another geographic location, or a solo attorney who needs better flexibility to work from home, there may come a time in your practice when you will need to connect and communicate between multiple office locations. While there are multiple ways to network, this article will focus on using and setting up a virtual private network. A virtual private network (VPN) is a secure communications network that tunnels through a public network, such as the Internet. Using a VPN, you can designate one office location to house the main server, or repository, for your data and allow remote office locations to work with the data through your private tunnel. Your employees can maintain a secure encrypted connection while still accessing the same information from anywhere with an Internet connection.
There are different ways to design your network, depending on your particular needs. The simplest is the Hub and Spoke configuration. In this configuration, multiple VPN routers act as the spokes that connect to a central VPN router serving as the hub. A separate, secured tunnel extends between each individual spoke and the hub. In this configuration, data travels from one spoke (the remote site) to the hub (the main office). Communication between branch offices must first pass from one spoke to the hub, and then out to the other spoke. This design works well for remote sites needing access to the main network, but if the remote sites need to communicate with each other, this configuration can create bottlenecks.
If you plan to set up multiple locations that need to transfer data seamlessly between each other, you will want to set up more of a Mesh Network configuration. In this structure, each location can communicate securely with all other locations. The secured tunnel can extend from one site to all other locations. This structure requires more configurations for each router at each location, but it works well for small law offices opening up satellite locations. In this design, if one location goes down, all the other sites can continue to communicate with each other.
At each location, you will need to set up your router for the desired VPN connection. For the hub-and-spoke configuration, you will set up a tunnel between each remote site and the central office. For the mesh network configuration, you have to set up a tunnel on each router to each and every other site. How you do this configuration will depend on the type of router you intend to use. Some nice hardware options include:
- Cisco RV0xx Series
- Dell Sonicwall Secure Mobile Access 200 Series
- Linksys LRT214
If you are uncomfortable taking this on as a do-it-yourself project, please do not hesitate to contact IT support for the set up. An IT firm should be able to get you up and running fairly quickly for a reasonable price, not to mention the value of the time and hassle it will save. They can show you how to maintain it as well.