A hardware VPN is a virtual private network ( VPN) based on a single, stand-alone device. The device, which contains a dedicated processor, manages authentication, encryption, and other VPN functions, and provides a hardware firewall. Hardware VPNs provide enhanced security for the enterprise in much the same way that hardware routers offer additional security (when compared to firewall programs) for home and small-business computer users.
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A traditional VPN is, essentially, a set of programs on the same platform as the network operating system. Such a VPN provides remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization's network by using the shared public telecommunications infrastructure and standard security measures. Hardware VPNs offer a number of advantages over the software-based VPN. In addition to enhanced security, hardware VPNs provide load balancing and the ability to handle large client loads. Administration is managed through a Web browser interface.
A hardware VPN is more expensive than a software VPN. Because of the cost, hardware VPNs are a more realistic option for large businesses than for small businesses or branch offices. Several vendors offer devices that can function as hardware VPNs.