Ask LH: How Well Should My Home VPN Perform?

Dear Lifehacker, I work full time from home for a company based interstate and do nearly all my work by VPN to a desktop in the office. Over the normal course of a working week there are occasional speed and up-time issues. I'm having some difficulty getting my manager to understand that some downtime is to be expected and unavoidable (it's not possible for me to change/upgrade my internet at home).

I average about a total of 30 minutes a week when I am unable to VPN due to connectivity issues. I'm also having trouble getting it across to work that a 500ms+ ping is terrible and unusable, and unfortunately this is fairly regular. Am I being too lax about the up-time and too demanding about the ping? I have no reference point to go by; what do you and the readers think? Thanks, Remote Worker

Shield picture from Shutterstock

Dear RW,

Performance variation is inevitable when using public connections -- the question is, does absolutely everything have to be done remotely? And why are you VPN-ing to a desktop, rather than securely connecting directly to the relevant apps? Are there no tasks you can perform with downloaded tasks which you re-upload later? Without any information on your line of work, it's hard to know which workarounds are and aren't possible.

In regards to getting your boss to understand the problem, try logging your downtime and working out the exact percentage of time wasted each week -- hard statistics tend to pull more weight than vague estimations. Ditto with the speed drops; make a physical record of all the ways the connection hampers productivity.

We'd love to hear from other readers about how their remote setup works. If you have any performance tricks to share, let RW know in the comments section below.

See also: How To Build Your Own VPN | Five Best VPN Service Providers | Why You Need A VPN (And How To Choose One)

Cheers Lifehacker

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    The title of this article is pretty nonsense heh.. And you probably could have emailed them back to ask what line of work they're in rather than basically saying "We cant really help because we dont know what you need"

    That said.. It seems borderline impossible to me that it is impossible for you to do any upgrade on your home internet if you need it for work.. If you have ADSL and it's unreliable, then that is unacceptable and something your provider is required to fix (if it is entirely dropping out especially.)

    For redundancy, many routers will allow you to plug in the 3G device directly into a USB slot, and will automatically switch to it when such redundancy is needed.. Or you can set up a home gateway with an old PC.

    If none of these options are applicable (which would be extremely unlikely, given the directional range of the 3G systems with external antennas), then you'd have government subsidised satelite internet available to you..
    ( More info: )
    .. Probably with a dialup redundancy for times with extremely bad weather just to keep you "online".

    As Chris says though, by far the best solution is to work around it.. But if really it's just that you work from home and he wants to make sure you're working - then literally any of these will allow it.

    And if none of these solutions are valid.. Freaking move if the job is valuable to you.. Why would you get a job working from home where you cannot meet the job requirements, then complain you can't meet the job requirements..

    I'd advise testing from another location, but you're indicating that it seems to be intermittent. That said, try to log the times of day that it's happening - and if possible, call the IT guy. If I get a call while the VPN is actually having terrible performance, I can check out the cause live (most recently, the exchange server was hogging the entire uplink).

    If it keeps happening, there's two possible causes:
    1) The issue is with your home internet. If you're on any kind of 'mobile broadband', Its likely. If you're experiencing issues at peak times only (5-8pm), it's likely. When you have bad performance, get a co-worker to get on the vpn as well to see if they have the same issue.

    2) The company internet has an issue. They may have a small uplink, so you're being swamped by people video conferencing or sending big emails. They may have QoS set up incorrectly so your VPN session gets the same priority as somebody watching youtube. They might have a cloud backup solution that basically kills the entire internet from 5pm onwards.

    If it's your home internet, it's your problem. If it's the company, you need to find somebody to care. If the IT guy just cant be bothered, providing as much data as possible about the problem helps. If management refuse to fork out for an adequate internet link, Then pointing out how much company money is being wasted is the way to go.

    (to answer your original question: half an hour of downtime and 500ms pings during work hours is bad by VPN standards, but it's a problem that usually costs money to fix)

    I asked the question. Thanks Chris, @michael_debyl and @stove.
    The reason I need to VPN is that I work mostly using a terminal emulator that needs to be on a PC on the office network as that network has the required router. That router is a particular model Cisco router and the setup is "cost prohibitive" and there are no alternatives so I'm stuck VPNing to do most of my work. It's unusual, yes.
    My home connection is ADSL2+ in a residential area and I live over 4km from the nearest exchange. I do not qualify for the broadband guarantee and my area is not even on the NBN plan yet. Satellite would be slower and 3G is not the best in the area either; no 4G yet. I have no influence over the ISP choice here anyway; I am not the name on the bill. I have raised the issues with the ISP and they mostly blame the distance to the exchange and Telstra's copper.
    The company is 35 staff, there is no IT guy, only an office manager. Anything bad enough gets called to the preferred IT support company. However I will try to have the QoS setup raised with them.
    What I was getting at is that I am stuck with what I've got and wanted to know whether those downtime and speeds are reasonable to be expected for a nearly 100% remote worker.

      Its not really about ISP choice though.. Just because there's nobody else does not mean they can just allow you to have such a terrible connection..

      At worst your speeds should be degrading all the way down to ADSL, and it's also possible your router is not automatically doing so.

      Give them a call, go through their troubleshooting, if you can still prove there's an issue then they have to address it, they can't even just cancel your contract - to a degree they would be reasonably bound to even invest in infrastructure if required. After all that, if you still aren't happy - talk to the telecommunications ombudsman. As @stove says though, it could even be the offices network - though most business connections are able to burst up to much higher speeds as required to prevent such problems.

      Some tips when you talk to your provider (or even telstra if your provider refers you there), don't mention the ombudsman, don't swear stay calm they are required to go through a fixed resolution process before they can do anything to seriously help you, or it may even resolve the problem (there's a reason that's the process they use after all, statistically speaking).

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