Consumer/Small Business VPN Like Solution

It's been awhile since I had to hit up the Tech & Help folks with a Ravenwood related question. I've been saving it up for a good one, so here goes.

Here's our current setup: I have a server located in my home office (built with help from you guys!). Our business files live on this server. I occasionally need to access some of those files remotely, say from the office at my day job. There are also files that both MonoCheli and I need to work on, schedules and what not. We currently use DropBox to meet both of those needs. We have several dropbox shares set up: one that is accessible on our main castle computer (staff can see) and can be seen by any of the management team on any of their computer, one that is accessible only to the management team, and one that is accessible only to me and my wife.

This setup works, but is currently posing us three problems. In descending order of import they are:

1) If you are actively working on a file in Dropbox, every time you change it or your program auto-saves it, the entire file is re-uploaded to Dropbox. Given our severe bandwidth limitations, this is causing an issue for any files that MonoCheli needs to work on.
2) All of the files included in Dropbox are physically located on my office computer. This isn't a huge problem, but having Ravenwood files on a computer that isn't Ravenwood controlled does make me somewhat nervous.
3) We are ending up with multiple copies of files that are in Dropbox, as those files need to be in Dropbox for accessibility, but also need to be on the main file server in their appropriate workspaces.

I think the solution is at least partially in some form of VPN being run from my home server. Perhaps a router such as this one with built in VPN capability? That would allow me to access the files remotely without actually syncing them to the local machine, solving problem #2. MonoCheli would be able to work on the files he needs, then upload them via the VPN once he's completed them, solving problem #1, although in a clunky way. It also helps with problem #3 as the files would live on the server alone, except for the in process files MonoCheli is currently working on.

Am I on the right track, or is there a more elegant solution that I'm just completely missing?

Well, a router with VPN could definitely work. Because you have the bandwidth issues, it's likely to be pretty slow, but you should be able to connect to the router, and then 'be there' in the home office, even though you're remote. Things will be very slow, but should otherwise work very well.

I'd suggest a router that supports OpenVPN; it's fast on just about everything, it's very easy, it seems well designed security-wise, and there are clients for all current OSes. One of the nicer bits is that you can use it in pre-shared key mode (aka, a single password that gives anyone who knows it access to your network), or with RSA certificates. The RSA approach is almost certainly way more complex than you need now, but it's there for later expansion. For the time being, PSK is nice and easy.

It looks like DD-WRT supports OpenVPN if you use a -vpn variant, so just finding a decent DD-WRT compatible router should do nicely. But I'm not too up on current router hardware. You probably don't need anything too advanced, but maybe someone else will know specific models you should look at?

Hot off the presses: You also might want to check out this new product, BTSync, which is basically using Bittorrent to keep files in sync across multiple computers. I'm not sure if it'll fit your data model, but it sure looks like it might work. You could rent a VPS somewhere to be an external repository; if you only store encrypted files there, and not the key, it should be almost 100% safe.

Thanks Malor. That BTSync looks similar to Cubby by LogMeIn, direct computer to computer sync without the need for the cloud. Unfortunately that still requires me to have the files on the local machine, so it doesn't solve problem #2.

I think I may give the VPN router a try. The bandwidth is only an issue on MonoCheli's side, not on my home office's side. I don't have the fastest connection in the world, but it's a decent speed DSL with no bandwidth cap. So that fixes problem #2 and #3 for me, and if Mono works on his files locally then uploads them to the server via the VPN it mitigates problem #1 a bit as well.

OK, I guess I'm confused; I thought you had a single network location, the castle, with several zones there, plus the need to access the files from your day job. It sounds like now there's a third location involved, a separate house with DSL. Are you Dropboxing the files to the cloud, and then basically redownloading them in both spots now?

The "home office" I mention is literally an office in my home. It's the primary location for the business side of Ravenwood Castle, and where the files actually live. Then there's my office at my day job, where I occasionally need to access files. Finally there's the castle itself, where MonoCheli is located and needs to access a small subset of the overall files. We have DSL at the home office, a massive pipe at the day job office, and capped satellite at the castle.

And your last question is a perfect summary of what we're doing. The files have a permanent home on my servers. Any file that is going to need to be accessed remotely gets moved into the appropriate Dropbox folder for as long as it needs to be accessed remotely. The file is then replicated to the cloud and from there down to all appropriate computers. That's what's causing both the excess bandwidth usage in problem #1 which affects the Castle, and the local copies of the files on non-Ravenwood computers in problem #2 which affects my day job office.

Well, I think maybe a combination of BTSync and a VPN would work well for you; with the VPN, you in essence can 'marry' the two office networks. You could build a permanent tunnel by putting a router in both places (although I remember the castle network as being complex, so that might take some thought before replacing anything.) Or you can just put the VPN router at home, and have MonoCheli run an OpenVPN client on a specific machine at the castle, and have it sync everything between the offices.

BT in general is very well-written, so I would expect BTSync to send file deltas like rsync, rather than whole files, which should cut down on the bandwidth tremendously. It should be far more efficient than DropBox, and then you're being your own cloud, instead of relying on anyone else.

Don't forget backups!

From another article about BTSync:

However, BitTorrent has indicated that it too hopes to introduce "differential sync" later this year.

So that means it'll send the whole file whenever it changes, rather than just deltas, but that may change.

Still, it's no worse than Dropbox, and it doesn't use the cloud.

I have a couple of general VPN questions-- I've been thinking about signing up for a VPN service for awhile now, mostly for downloading privacy reasons. Is it possible to "switch off" your VPN connection when it's not needed? Since I'm not exchanging sensitive data while playing games, and of course I want the fastest connection, a VPN connection isn't necessary. My primary machine is a Windows 8 desktop, and I'm behind a DD-WRT router on a home cable modem connection.

Also, has anyone heard of A quick search of their services brought up positive reviews; the 2048-bit encryption (this is possible and isn't BS right?) is appealing. Any other VPN service recommendations are appreciated!

Thoughts? Help? Thanks!

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