The Difference Between a VPN and VLAN

by Tashina

In the complex world of networking, two terms often surface: VPN (Virtual Private Network) and VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network). While they both contain the word ‘Virtual’ and are designed to enhance network capabilities, they serve different purposes and operate in distinct ways. This article aims to dissect the differences between VPN and VLAN, helping you understand which technology is best suited for your specific needs.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network or VPN is an high security connection since it allows one to transfer data in a more private environment. You can connect to a VPN through an insecure network such as the Internet; however, your messages and data will benefit from further encryption when sent through a VPN. Furthermore, to add more to the improved security, VPN also keeps your location private. Thus, you can surf the web without giving up your true IP.

How Does a VPN Work?

When you connect to a VPN, your internet traffic is routed through a remote server. This process encrypts your data, making it unreadable to anyone who might intercept it. Additionally, your IP address is replaced with that of the VPN server, obscuring your true location.

Key Features:

  1. Encryption: Scrambles your data, making it unreadable.
  2. Anonymity: Masks your IP address, making you virtually invisible online.
  3. Geo-Spoofing: Allows you to appear as if you’re browsing from a different location.

Why Use a VPN?

Online Privacy

With data breaches and cyber-attacks on the rise, a VPN adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for hackers and snoopers to access your information.

Secure Public Wi-Fi

Using public Wi-Fi without a VPN is risky business. A VPN encrypts your connection, safeguarding your data from potential threats.

Access Restricted Content

Whether you’re travelling abroad or simply want to access content that’s restricted in your region, a VPN can help you bypass geo-restrictions.

Who Should Use a VPN?

Virtually anyone concerned about their online privacy and security should consider using a VPN. This includes:

  • Travellers
  • Remote Workers
  • Online Shoppers
  • Streamers
  • Gamers

Advanced Features of VPN

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

To bolster security, many VPN services offer Multi-Factor Authentication. This requires users to provide two or more verification methods—a password, a smart card, a fingerprint, or even facial recognition—before gaining access.

Kill Switch

A Kill Switch is a crucial feature that automatically disconnects your device from the Internet if the VPN connection is lost, thereby preventing data leakage.

Split Tunneling

This feature allows you to route only specific traffic through the VPN while letting other data pass through your regular network, offering a balance between security and speed.

DNS Leak Protection

DNS Leak Protection ensures that all DNS requests are routed through the VPN, preventing any accidental exposure of your browsing habits.

What is a VLAN?

A Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) is a logical partition within a physical network, allowing devices to communicate as if they are on the same physical network, regardless of their actual location. VLANs enhance network performance, security, and simplify management by segmenting a larger network into smaller, isolated networks.

How Does a VLAN Work?

A VLAN operates at the data link layer of the OSI model. Network switches use VLAN tagging to assign a unique identifier to each frame of data. This enables the switch to segregate traffic and route it only to devices within the same VLAN.

Key Features:

  1. Segmentation: Divides a physical network into multiple logical networks.
  2. Isolation: Restricts data traffic to devices within the same VLAN.
  3. Scalability: Easily expandable without major changes to the physical network.

Why Use a VLAN?

Improved Network Performance

By segmenting a network into smaller VLANs, you can reduce congestion and improve data traffic flow.

Enhanced Security

VLANs isolate sensitive data and restrict it to specific users or departments, thereby minimising the risk of unauthorised access.

Simplified Management

Managing a large, flat network can be cumbersome. VLANs make it easier to manage devices and deploy policies.

Who Should Use a VLAN?

VLANs are particularly beneficial for:

  • Large Organisations
  • Educational Institutions
  • Data Centres
  • Healthcare Providers
  • Government Agencies

Difference between a VPN and VLAN

  • VPN: Operates over the internet, connecting remote networks or users.
  • VLAN: Operates within a local network, segmenting it into smaller logical networks.

Layer of Operation

  • VPN: Generally operates at the OSI model’s network layer.
  • VLAN: Operates at the OSI model’s data link layer.

Primary Use

  • VPN: Primarily used for secure, remote access to a network.
  • VLAN: Primarily used for network management and segmentation.


  • VPN: Focuses on encrypting data for secure transmission.
  • VLAN: Focuses on isolating segments of a network for security but does not encrypt data by default.

Use Cases


  • Remote Work
  • Secure Public Wi-Fi
  • Bypassing Geo-Restrictions


  • Large Organisations
  • Educational Institutions
  • Data Centres

Advanced Features of VLAN

Quality of Service (QoS)

In a VLAN, you can implement Quality of Service policies to prioritise certain types of traffic. For example, VoIP traffic can be prioritised over file transfers.

Dynamic VLAN Assignment

With Dynamic VLAN Assignment, network administrators can automatically assign VLANs to users based on criteria like job role, department, or even the time of day.

Private VLANs

Private VLANs offer an additional layer of isolation within a regular VLAN, allowing for more granular control over network resources and security.

VLAN Trunking Protocol (VTP)

VTP allows for the centralised management of multiple VLANs across various switches in a network, making it easier to add, delete, or rename VLANs.

Real-World Applications and Case Studies

VPN in Remote Work

With the rise of remote work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, VPNs have become indispensable. They allow employees to securely access company resources from anywhere in the world.

VPN in Journalism

Journalists working in hostile environments use VPNs to bypass censorship and protect their sources.

VLAN in Universities

Educational institutions often employ VLANs to separate faculty, student, and guest networks, thereby enhancing security and managing bandwidth more effectively.

VLAN in Healthcare

In healthcare settings, VLANs can segregate network traffic for different departments like radiology, patient records, and billing, ensuring that sensitive data is only accessible to authorised personnel.

Security Concerns


  • Data Logging: Some VPN providers may log your data, which could be a privacy concern.
  • Jurisdiction: The jurisdiction under which a VPN service operates can affect your privacy and data security.


  • VLAN Hopping: This is a network attack where an attacker can send packets to a VLAN to which they don’t belong.
  • Misconfiguration: Incorrect VLAN configuration can lead to security vulnerabilities.

Future Trends


  • WireGuard: A new VPN protocol that promises better security and faster speeds.
  • Cloud-Based VPNs: These are becoming increasingly popular for businesses that rely on cloud services.


  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN): This allows for more flexible network management, including VLAN configurations.
  • IoT and VLANs: As IoT devices become more prevalent, VLANs will play a crucial role in segregating traffic and enhancing security.


While both VPN and VLAN are vital technologies in the realm of networking, they serve different purposes and are best suited for different scenarios. VPNs are ideal for securing remote connections and enhancing online privacy, whereas VLANs excel in optimising local network performance and management. Understanding the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision on which technology to implement based on your specific needs.

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