SASE vs. VPN: What’s the difference?

A laptop screen displaying a VPN logo
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Security in the business world is becoming more and more complicated. The increased demand for remote working just made us reconsider what we can do better, and what it really takes to keep our precious data safe.

While technology such as VPNs helped us survive the ordeal that was the Covid-19, the legacy security infrastructure was somewhat buckling under the pressure to support the increasing reliance on remote working.

This new environment opened the door for the new major ‘’security’’ player in the game - SASE or Secure Access Service Edge.

But what makes SASE different from a traditional VPN? Is there a reason to make the switch, or will the good old VPN still do in 2022?

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1. VPN is made for users in the same environment

First, let’s see how a VPN functions and what is its primary use is to better understand how it differs from SASE.

A Virtual Private Network is software that ensures the privacy of online traffic within a corporate network. All the data is funneled through a connection isolated from the rest of the internet. The data that goes through a VPN is also encrypted, which gives you an extra layer of security. 

So, the VPN offers multiple layers in securing your data:

  • It authenticates every connection made to your business network.
  • It directs the traffic via a secure connection to a server or a cloud resource. The VPN tunnel then inserts data packets into different data packets in a  process called tunneling.
  • Finally, all the data is encrypted, ensuring that third parties can’t decipher the information shared within your network.

VPN architecture is usually supported using hardware located within on-premise data centers. This setup works surprisingly well when the work environment functions in a traditional manner - the standard type of office work.

2. SASE is a cloud-based multitool 

If you ever wondered if SASE is in any way similar to a legacy VPN solution, the answer is complicated. While their goal is the same (protecting your data), they accomplish that goal differently. 

Even the nature of how they operate is different.

Whereas VPN is a standalone tool, SASE combines a number of platforms into one. For example, SASE incorporates services delivered through a cloud-based model such as: 

  • Software-Defined Wide Area Network 
  • Zero trust network access 
  • Secure web gateway
  • Firewall-as-a-service
  • Cloud Access Security Broker

With these wide arrays of tools built into its core, SASE is a perfect cloud-based solution to the old problem of network security that allows you to securely connect remote workers in the cloud and multi-site environments.

While VPNs connect a user with one network, SASE creates a secure network perimeter that allows remote access to your company’s network system regardless of geographical barriers. This approach can remove complexities from network management with a customizable control that can be tailored according to your organization’s needs.

 A dedicated workspace that includes the management and user application portals together with an authentication screen is defined as a tenant. Platforms such as Perimeter 81 can tackle multiple tenants at the same time, which means that the users can manage access to their cloud and on-premise assets while monitoring network activity at the same time from a single interface. 

3. Does this mean that the VPN can still get the job done?

Again, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as it seems on the surface. 

While a VPN is still a robust solution on its own, within the modern context it falls short on multiple fronts. While security is drastically improved by using VPN, it is in no way foolproof, especially when met with issues surrounding the facilitation of remote working.

For example, a large number of remote workers can significantly affect the VPN user experience by significantly slowing down the bandwidth. The process in which data travels with a VPN induces a lot of latency because the data has to reach the data center first, before getting approved, and just then being sent back to the user.

This process also increases the time that the data spends in transit, considerably lowering security.

In comparison, by using SASE, the data is pushed out to the edge of the network, which means quicker access for all your employees.

Additionally, migrating to the cloud is a lot more scalable. If you need to expand your operations to facilitate more remote employees, you can do so without investing in any new on-site equipment.

Along with scalability, the multitool nature of SASE might also help you cut down on management costs and IT resources as you won’t have to purchase and run various new endpoint solutions.

Make sure your needs are met

With the world shifting its gears towards remote working, the tools we use to facilitate the switch also need to follow suit accordingly. Even with vaccinations taking place and office work making its grand return, the fact is, many workers are still working online and business owners are experimenting with using a hybrid approach.

When it comes to the viability of VPNs, they do still hold up, especially if your company doesn’t need to support a remote workforce, or if your network is fairly simple to manage.

On the other hand, if the previous statement doesn’t apply to you, maybe it is time to make a new investment towards building a better network architecture. Fortunately, because SASE resides completely in the cloud, having it introduced into your company can be completed in no time.

You might also want to check out our list of the best free VPN service providers out there

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.