Apple Network Utility Icon - Courtesy of Apple Inc.

You know when a friend asks…

"Can you help me with my network, I need to setup a VPN for the external staff?"

It should fill you with dred. VPN's seem to be the most complex things to setup in the world, I mean really in this day and age you would have thought connecting one computer to another via the internets would be easy!

Well this isn't I can tell you, at least in Windows world. Microsoft will sell a small business a server operating system, which they say, is specifically designed to give the modern small business all the tools that they need to run a successful IT based business. Poppycock!.

What Microsoft actually sell the business is Windows Server for Small Businesses Essentials (Or some such silly named thing) which if your a MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) will give you a great starting point to work with.

Well ok so that's not so bad right? well I guess but hang on, most small businesses just want a turn key solution without the reliance on techies to popup and setup all of their systems. And even if your knowledgeable about these things setting up a VPN still is a minefield of choices, configs, routers, IP's & domains, security and testing.

So back to it, I of course said sure! let me take a look see and lets get this done for you. So I logged into the server and started hunting for a setting in the Eseentials Dashboard which would allow me to setup a VPN, not a bit of it, after some Googling and some greying of hair it turns out that you have to go and enable roles in the server administration area of Windows Server.

But wait thats not all, you also need to have more than one network card installed, at least in this case, and you have to have DNS setup correctly otherwise the Networking and Remote Access service cannot process and incoming request.

After a couple of evenings spent tinkering I kinda got it working yay!! but cut to a week later, Microsoft releases and update to the operating system and bye bye VPN…

Rightly my friend asks…

"Can you fix this? How long will it take? Will it break again?"

My answer was frankly non commital, but I said "I'm not sure why it broke in the first place, and also I am not convinced that it won't break again, and furthermore I don't even know if I can fix this".

Putting my thinking cap on I realised that with a relatively small outlay the solution was right there in front of me, buy a Mac mini and set that up as the VPN server, dedicated to the task. My friend thought this was an excellent idea and went straight out and purchased said hardware.

Rubbing my hands together I thought, right we're off I know how to do this on OS X and it will be plain sailing from here. It wasn't… for some reason even after following all of the steps as prescribed by Apple the VPN's still wouldn't connect, I went through server setups, router setups, client machine setups and everything in between but to no avail.

Frustrated by all of this I decided to look for another solution, 3rd times' a charm right!? Eventually I cam accross this neat little OS X app which does all of the heavy lifting for you.

iVPN available on the App Store, is a little desktop app which effectivly walks you through setting up a VPN, it is very similar to the OS X server treatment of VPN however within 10 mins I had set it up, tested it and got it working.

The moral of this story is then, there are always people out there who have had similar issues to you and usuall the really clever ones have developed a solution which makes it easy for the rest of us. I would definately encourage small businesses who want a networked environment to look at Apple's offering which is not as expensive as you would think. And as for VPN's iVPN all the way for me!