NordLayer VPN Review with Dedicated Server – A business focussed VPN

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NordLayer Business VPN Review Rating

Summary

Nordlayer VPN is a superb business-focussed VPN that allows you to have all your staff within one account and set up dedicated servers giving your a unique IP for all users on that server.

Overall
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Pros

  • Easy to set up a dedicated server
  • Create a virtual LAN to be able to access resources remotely
  • Affordable for a business focussed product

Cons

  • Fewer server locations than consumer-focussed NordVPN

VPN services are ten a penny nowadays, and many of the affordable options out there provide a perfectly good level of service for casual home users.

However, not everyone wants a VPN just so they can bypass regional restrictions of Netflix or get cheaper serves through different regional pricing.

Virtual Private Networks can be beneficial for business users allowing companies to do testing across regions and to be able to connect to company resources as if you are on the same network.

NordLayer is the newly rebranded version of NordVPN Teams, which is the business arm of the popular NordVPN and I have been trying out the service for the past couple of weeks to see how it performs.

NordLayer vs NordVPN 

NordLayer has servers in over 33 locations worldwide, whereas NordVPN has 5500 ultra-fast servers in 60 countries all around the world. With NordLayer, on the shared servers, you don't get a choice of cities. I suspect they will connect to the best performing server at the time for that region.

I think the number of servers and locations is less important for business users, it is more about the quality of service.

NordVPN costs £10.55, including VAT when billed monthly, but you can reduce this down to £2.99 PCM you buy two years' worth of service at £71.71. A one year plan costs £51.70.

NordLayer bills in USD and costs $84.00 billed annually for the basic service or $108.00 annually for the advanced service. This works out as £63.64 and £81.83.

Opting for the advanced plan allows you to purchase dedicated servers with up to 1Gbps speed priced at $40.00/month.

One of the main differences is that you sign up your company to Nordlayer and then can have multiple users all within that account. You can also create teams of users which you can then assign to a dedicated server.

The dedicated server will obviously have a dedicated IP address, so this then allows you to have groups of users working from anywhere in the world, all with the same IP address.

Features

  • Auto-connect – Connect to NordLayer as soon as an internet connection is established
  • Site-to-site – Connect to your internal business LAN securely via dedicated gateways
  • Next-gen site-to-site tunnelling — secure access to company resources
  • AES 256-bit traffic encryption — protecting your data
  • Network Access Control (IP allow listing) — set access permissions across the network
  • Biometric authentication — for an added layer of security
  • Smart Access — create a virtual LAN between company devices & servers
  • Dedicated servers / Static IP functionality — choose your virtual location
  • Custom private gateway creation — for easy network segmentation
  • Single Sign-On (SSO) with Azure AD, OneLogin, Okta & G Suite — meaning no additional credentials are needed
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA) — for additional layered security
  • Jailbroken / rooted device detection — alerting you to vulnerable devices on the network
  • Threat-block malware protection (including DNS filtering) — mitigating the risk of malicious threats

Managing Members & Teams

NordLayer is designed for companies, so rather than having individual accounts, you have an organization account which can then be set up with members and teams.

You can then assigned assign security policies on how users can log in and enable two-factor authentication.

Withing the security configuration, you can enable smart remote access and also ThreatBlock. ThreatBlock will then malware and protect your network against malicious cyber threats.

Setting up a dedicated server

Dedicated servers give you a static IP and connectivity up to 1Gbps with the option to connect all clients into one virtual LAN.

With the NordLayer control panel, you need to set up a gateway then assign either your teams to it or individual members.

From here, you can then assign a dedicated server to that gateway. You have a greater range of options for your server locations compared to the shared servers. For example, with a dedicated server, you can select servers in Brazil, Idia, Japan, South Africa and South Korea

Creating a new dedicated server can take seconds or a few minutes. When I set one up in the UK, I am sure it was done immediately, but setting a new one up in NYC, I was informed I was in a queue. The NYC server was active within 5 minutes.

I only had one server licence, and I was able to delete my UK server and set up a new NYC server all within that one licence. The $40 monthly fee isn't assigned to one specific server.

Smart Remote Access

Smart Remote Access creates a virtual local network (LAN) between all the devices connected to the same private gateway. This will then allow users on the network to use shared folders, even when they are not physically on the same LAN.

Installation

You can set up Nordlayer with almost any device that connects to the Internet. There are apps for:

  • Apple Mac
  • Windows
  • Linux (Red Hat and Debian)
  • Apple iOS phones and tablets
  • Android phones and tablets. Both on the Play Store and in APK format

You can then use manual connections with OpenVPN/IKEv2.

For the apps, it is just a case of downloading it, installing it and then login. You may be able to use a single sign-on if your company has enabled it, and you may also be forced to use 2FA.

Performance

One issue I have had with some VPNs in the past is the low connection and disconnection. With some cheap VPNs, the disconnection process can cut off my connectivity for a couple of minutes.

With NordLayer, everything is almost instant. Click on the server, and it connects in a fraction of a second. Disconnecting feels immediate.

Dedicated server test

Doing some basic speeds tests using SpeedTest.net, the results were impressive, but there is a small drop in speed from my full 500Mbps Virgin Media connection.

  • The UK based dedicated server achieved 458Mbps with a  ping of 15ms.
  • The NYC dedicated server achieved 379Mbps with a 110ms ping
  • Connecting to the shared London location, I achieved a speed of 407Mbps with a ping of 14ms.
  • Connecting to the United States server, I achieved a speed of 240Mbps, the ping was 109ms.
  • Serbia managed 320Mbps with a 43ms ping
  • Hong Kong performed the worst at 46Mbps with a ping of 305ms

With the US shared server, I connected to this multiple times on different occasions. The ping always remained the same, but speeds ranged from 220Mbps to 340Mbps. In comparison, the dedicated server remained consistently above 360Mbps.

Price and Alternative Options

NordLayer bills in USD and costs $84.00 billed annually for the basic service or $108.00 annually for the advanced service. This works out as £63.64 and £81.83.

A dedicated server costs $40pcm with performance up to 1gbps.

An alternative business-focussed VPN with similar features is Perimeter81. This is priced at $8 Per user/mo for the essentials, then $40/mo for a gateway with the gateway performance limited to 500 Mbps/Gateway, and there is a minimum of 5 users. The essential plan lacks Always-on VPN and Single Sign-On capabilities.

For the premium plan, there is a minimum of 10 users, and this increases to $12Per user/mo. This will then improve the gateway speeds to 1000 Mbps/Gateway.

Depending on what features you want, you could also roll your own dedicated server but I expect it would be difficult to find a local server capable of Gigabit throughput for the same price as NordLayer. You'd also be responsible for setting it all up yourself, which could take a significant amount of time.

Overall

There are multiple benefits to be had from a business VPN.

With so many companies relying on the Internet for business, things like security are more important than ever. Running your Internet through a VPN that can also block malware will significantly improve your security, you won't expose personal IP addresses or work server IPs, and you can filter out malware.

Then, in the past two years, working from home has become the new normal, whether that's full time or a hybrid approach. If you have staff working from remote locations, being able to work on the same virtual network has significant benefits. You can directly connect to internal work servers, share folders and just seamlessly work as a team even if you are not physically in the same room or building.

Being able to quickly switch IP addresses and locations also has many benefits for businesses. I still do some online marketing consulting, and being able to test Google results from different countries or how geotargeted adverts are working is essential.

The cost of the service seems reasonable too, it is cheaper than Perimeter81 and $108.00 per user per year + $40pcm for a dedicated server is not a huge cost for a business.

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