One of the many things I have had on my To Do List for a while now is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for my home network. For those who don’t know a VPN is a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization’s network. There are three reasons in particular why I wanted to set up a VPN:
- The ability to easily back up files from my Windows Home Server to my Dad’s EX495, providing me additional data protection
- When traveling I can access my home network from my Laptop just as if I was at home. This particularly makes things easier for me as I do some of my writing and/or software testing on my laptop, and having direct access to all my files on my WHS facilitates the process. Prior to setting up the VPN I was either remoting in to my desktop PC at home or constantly downloading files via my remote website.
- The ability to access the WHS console on my laptop while traveling, as well as allowing for the daily backup
Since I already use LogMeIn to remote in to my PCs/Windows Home Server, I thought this would be a great opportunity to test out their VPN product called Hamachi. Since everything is web based and goes through LogMeIn’s servers, there is no need for any sort of networking expertise or having to mess around with any PC setting. With this comes a couple of caveats that I will mention at the end of this post. Hamachi is free for personal use (up to 16 client PCs), and a paid commercial version is available as well. Let’s take a look at the steps needed to install Hamachi and see if I was successful in implementing my 3 items above. The goal will be to successfully set up a VPN consisting of my Windows 7 x64 laptop (from work), my Windows Home Server (at my house), and my Dad’s EX495 (his house).
1. Set up a free account with LogMeIn
2. With the account set up, log in and click on “My Networks” on the left hand side. You will have an option to start adding clients or start creating a network. I decided to start by adding clients.
3.When you go to add a client you are given the choice to install Hamachi on the PC you are currently working on or to send a notification to another PC that you want Hamachi installed on. I installed on the machine I was working on (my Windows Home Server)
4. Next simply click on the “Install LogMeIn Hamachi” button. You will then be prompted to go through the typical software installation process which shouldn’t require more then a few clicks of the mouse.
5. With Hamachi now installed, go back into your LogMeIn account and under My Networks you should now see the PC that was just added
6. At this point you can either add more clients or set up your VPN. The process is the same for adding additional clients, so let’s move on to setting up the VPN by clicking on “Add Networks”. There will be a choice of three different networks that can be set up:
|Gateway virtual networking. Provide remote users with secure access to your private network/LAN, including the resources on it, from a centralized LogMeIn Hamachi² gateway, without modifying firewalls or network routers.|
|Hub-and-spoke virtual networking. Provide remote users with secure access to specific computers on your network, from any location, without modifying firewalls or network routers.|
|Mesh networking. Connect all of your network clients to each other. Quickly and easily create a simple, virtual, mesh network that allows remote machines to directly connect to each other, thereby giving users basic network access to all the network resources they need.|
Since I want to connect all my PCs to each other I decided to go with the Mesh network.
7. Next step is to assign security to the VPN for any clients that want to join. You can assign a network password that a client must enter in to join the VPN. Instead of doing this I set it so any join requests must be approved by me.
8. The final step is to select which client PCs you want added to the network
9. Now go onto one of the PCs and run Hamachi. A small program should appear which shows the newly created VPN and the client PCs that are assigned. Each client PC will have a colored circle next to it. The various colors and what they mean are:
- A gray indicator means that the peer is offline and there is no connectivity with it.
- A blinking green indicator means that the peer is online and Hamachi2 is working to establish a connection. It typically takes under a second to establish the tunnel, but sometimes it may take up to few minutes.
- A solid green indicator means that you have direct connection with a peer.
- A cyan indicator means that Hamachi2 was not able to establish direct connection and that you are connected to a peer via a relay server.
That is it, you now have your own private VPN!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there were three objectives I was looking to meet by setting up the VPN. Let’s see if Hamachi delivers:
Test 1 -Transferring data from my Windows Home Server to my Dad’s EX495 – Success
Test 2 -Ability to access my Windows Home Server shared folders from my laptop at work just as if I was connected to my network at home – Success
Test 3 -Ability to access the WHS Console from my laptop at work as well as initiate a PC backup – Success
Overall I was very impressed at how easy it was to set up a VPN with Hamachi (It took me approximately 10 minutes) and as my test results show I was able to accomplish exactly what I was looking for.
There are two caveats though that is worth mentioning. The first caveat is that with the free Hamachi version speeds are somewhat slower then with the commerical (paid) Hamachi. I don’t know what the exact difference is, but from discussions with LogMeIn support the non-commercial relay tunnel has a ping time averaging between 100-1000 ms, whereas a commercial (paid) license gives a ping time of around 40-60 ms. This translates to a significant improvement in speed as the lower the ping time, the better the connection. Although general browsing of my files and transfers of smaller data wasn’t terribly slow, I would never consider trying to transfer/backup large amounts of data over Hamachi (free). Also, it should be understood that transfer speeds will also be dependent on the ISP service provided to each PC connected to the VPN.
The second caveat is that since the VPN is going through LogMeIn’s server, your data is being exposed to LogMeIn. Now obviously the assumption is that LogMeIn is in no way viewing your data, but some people may feel uneasy about this. I only keep hard copy documents about the truth behind who killed JFK and the Earth’s first contact with human civilization, so this is not a concern to me.
If you are looking to set up a VPN and want a simple solution, I highly recommend giving LogMeIn Hamachi a try.