VPN struggles
December 3, 2020 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Please help me troubleshoot my VPN and internet connection woes before I get fired from my new job.

Recently started a new job and am having a lot of trouble reliably connecting to the shared network/VPN from home.

I have Verizon Fios 100/100-- but in speed tests over wifi from my Verizon router, I get more like 55/55 on a regular basis, sometimes less. As soon as I connect to the VPN (SSL), my speeds are more like 20/10, and I can't actually access the drives (get 'network path not found' error). The IT person seems to think this is a problem with my internet but hasn't been particularly helpful in figuring out how to fix it.

Can someone who knows more help me figure out the next best step? It seems like these are the options:

-Buy an ethernet cable to see what my actual speeds are/see if my speeds improve enough to connect
-Upgrade to 200/200 mbps plan or more (this is fine, I can do this if I actually need to)
-Bug verizon and tell them I'm not getting the speeds I'm paying for (I'm not sure if this is true)
-Bug the IT person because this sounds like it is actually an issue with my work laptop or the network (I have no idea if this is true)

Thank you in advance for saving my career, metafilter.
posted by geegollygosh to Technology (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As an IT person myself, a "problem with your Internet" is certainly a possible cause, but would have specific technical symptoms that could be tested for, and if confirmed, provided to you to report to your ISP. It sounds more like you got the receiving end of an assumption that because other staff are getting in fine, the problem can only be with your Internet connection, which is not a safe assumption. Are you able to escalate this to your supervisor/manager to get someone to help troubleshoot this, at least up to the point of having technical details to report to your ISP if that's where the problem turns out to be?
posted by FishBike at 6:43 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is it a big enough organization to have a help desk that you can call? With half a year of WFH, the operators there should have some very well-practiced routines for isolating & identifying the cause of remote access problems.

Using a cable to connect your computer directly to the router would help eliminate wifi as the culprit, and a logical first step after asking things like "Is anyone in the house getting poor speeds like you are?" and "do you still get half your promised speed when you use a network cable (before starting the VPN)?"
posted by wenestvedt at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would probably upgrade my plan to 200/200 as a first step, mainly because it would give me a very convenient wedge with Verizon customer/technical support if it turns out to not have a significant effect. My guess is they are more responsive when you've just given them more money, versus trying to troubleshoot an existing issue.

If it didn't involve my livelihood, I would be more methodical with those other steps, and you can always downgrade your account back to 100/100 if it turns out to be something else.
posted by jeremias at 6:58 AM on December 3, 2020

This is a problem your IT person should fix. Getting lower speeds over a VPN is very likely (because your requests to things then have to take a different path, first going through your company's infrastructure before they go to the internet).

It's possible that the problem is something with your wifi or wired connection, but it's the kind of something would be a configuration setting (like MTU) that your IT person should figure out. Upgrading your connection is extremely unlikely to help in any way.
posted by so fucking future at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

(I have FiOS, and they often want a contract in order to improve serves without paying a ton more.)

I also use 100/100 FiOS at home: I WFH, and have four kids (from college to middle school) doing distance learning all day. We don't have those troubles, so I suspect you've got a wifi problem, or else the computer is the problem.

Did the new job give you the computer, or is it yours? Is it downloading something in the background, like updates, or your roaming Windows profile?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:01 AM on December 3, 2020

Response by poster: Hey all, IT is one person but I can escalate with her. The problem is that it's an intermittent problem-- sometimes I can connect. So I feel like she's not convinced it's not just user error.

Laptop is theirs, and is an older, pretty slow, "loaner" model right now until they get me set up with a newer one.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:02 AM on December 3, 2020

Not an IT person here but a long-time WFH-er. So many times I have experienced IT staff who want to blame it on my internet speeds. This was particularly easy for them when I was one of a very small number of WFH employees and their benchmark was really those using in-office business connections. I got more or less "Sorry, the system is designed to run on more speed than you have." I upgraded to a 300/300 plan (for which employer pays) with some initial benefit but it wasn't a magic bullet. What really helped though, was over the years (pre-Covid) employees who travelled for business and the increasing number of WFH employees complained they eventually revamped the system, we moved on from Citrix to something else, they upgraded my laptop and now (with no further change in my service plan) my VPN is indistinguishably fast from my experience on the laptop locally. It's probably not within your power to influence your organizations overall VPN solutions, but I tried even our new solution with the old laptop and a newer one and it was substantially better on the newer one. So, I do think it may be worth upgrading your plan (as said above) and continuing to push for the newer laptop. Maybe you want to upgrade quickly to see if you can get some improvement in your experience, maybe you think any success there would have them drag their feet on the new laptop ....
posted by MustangMamaVE at 7:10 AM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

It seems like "buy an ethernet cable" is a no-brainer here, because this could be wifi issues, and a <$20 cable will rule that out instantly. Hell, if cost is an issue, and you're in the US, memail me and I'll see if I have anything in my cable bin that I could shove in a flat-rate box.
posted by Alterscape at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

A speed drop and disconnection smell like WiFi issues. Is it an all-in-one gizmo from Verizon, or is there a separate access point?

Things I would check:
* Is the router / access point firmware up to date.
* Is the clunky old laptop's wifi driver up to date.
* Is the access point trying to speak a flavor of WiFi that this laptop can't handle.(e.g. AC vs N)
* Do the local network and office VPN subnets have an overlap, causing routing delays. (e.g. both in a 10.* or 192.168.*
* Is the VPN correctly setting up name resolution for shares.

If ethernet solves it, you have a wifi problem.

Do you have a neighbor / friend who's home you might be able to sit outside of and try from there to compare?
posted by nickggully at 7:25 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Agree with Alterscape, and I would add that since WiFi operates in unlicensed radio spectrum, it could be that you have sporadic interference. Connecting directly to your Verizon equipment with an Ethernet cable will help you figure out if there is interference since you will eliminate that as a potential source of the problem.
posted by elmay at 7:26 AM on December 3, 2020

One, yes, try a cable connection first.

Also, I don't know if your situation is like mine, but when I work over VPN, programs won't be able to connect to network drives by themselves for some reason. I use Revit (architectural modeling software), for which the support files are pathed back to one of our network drives. If I open Revit right after connecting to VPN, it can't find the support files, and I can't open anything from our network drives where our project files are stored because it can't find the drives. Same thing with Outlook and other things. So, first step after connecting to VPN for me is to open windows explorer and click on each of the network drives I have, which allows my computer to find them. Prior to clicking on each one, the drive in windows explorer will show a red 'X' on its icon, which changes to a green check mark once I've connected it. After I've done all that, programs are able to find things like normal.
posted by LionIndex at 7:34 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

You mentioned that this is an older computer, so I'd definitely try a network cable soon. Older WiFi often used 2.4GHz and a neighbor using a microwave can easily goof up a perfectly fine network connection at random intervals.
posted by advicepig at 7:43 AM on December 3, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I'll go grab a cable later on today to get a better idea of the problem and then proceed from there based on the many thoughts you all had. Thanks so much!

On preview, it is a 2.4 ghz connection and I live in an apartment building, so that is interesting.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


Yeah, 2.4 is slower (albeit a little sturdier that 5 GHz), and I bet you're also having serious interference from your neighbors' wifi.

All consumer wireless gear will start on the same radio channels, and dumber units will never bother hopping to a less-congested one. And even if they do, there's just so much radio traffic that it's like guests yelling at each other at a party.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you're as close to me as I think you are, I could leave a cable on my porch for you to pick up this afternoon!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:00 AM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just chiming in. I suspect it depends on the specific VPN type and I've never delved into the technical specifics, but they don't seem to work well with wifi in some environments. Virtually any time I have a client with a VPN issue they've been on wifi (and almost always can't run an ethernet cable to their home router from their workspace, necessitating workarounds). Interference and dropped packets has been my vague guess.
posted by figurant at 8:19 AM on December 3, 2020

When I had VPN issues, I called my ISP's (not Verizon) support, and for me, based on my ISP-supplied router and the VPN I was using, knew exactly what the problem was and how to fix it, which was a firmware upgrade to the router.

So, if the issues remain after trying a ethernet connection, Verizon support may be able to help.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:39 AM on December 3, 2020

Any modern wifi encrypts your packets, and so does a VPN -- which means your traffic gets put through the Secret Math Machine twice, coming and going. Servers can get special PCI cards just to do this, but laptops & PCs need to use their main CPU, and it can cause some overhead that drags. If your new company did, indeed, give you an older, "beater" laptop, you could be feeling this.

(But mostly, this is probably going to turn out to be ordinary congestion, and using an Ethernet cable will make your working life much better.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on December 3, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks wenestvedt-- we are indeed neighbors! I'll be able to pick one up on my errand run this afternoon but your offer is much appreciated!
posted by geegollygosh at 9:31 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

My workgroup was in a temporary office for a while, and we all connected to the company network via WiFi. One of the things were learned was that a WiFi router slows all connections to the speed of the slowest device that it's serving.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2020

I have WFM for over 20 years and accessed the company network via VPN. Until the last year or so I had a 10MB connection which while slow worked 99% of the time. I have recently upgraded to 500MB and the only benefit I have seen is faster download/upload times.

Connecting directly to the modem/router will tell you what actually speed you are getting form your Verizon. Since you are on FIOS I would expect that you are getting the advertised speed. Do you have a separate modem or is it built into the router?

How many walls are between your computer and the router and how is the signal strength? Passing through walls will degrade your WiFi signal. If you are using a router provided by the Verizon you may want to purchase and better router.

How are you speeds if you are not logged onto the VPN?
posted by tman99 at 10:02 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Your office VPN server configuration and/or your home VPN client configuration might be set to enforce a "full tunnel" where all of your network traffic (including Internet) is routed through work's device. This will slow things down. This assumes there is a single device (like a combination router/firewall/VPN server) for the office.

If multiple people are connected to the work VPN and their setups are also full tunnel, then the work device's ability to handle all of everyone's traffic might suffer. Performance degrades A LOT when we have a 30+ participant Zoom conference with some people in the office and most working from home. Bottleneck.

If you can get help setting up a "split tunnel" configuration, that will send only traffic intended for the work network through the VPN server, lightening the load. If all WFH people can do this, everyone will benefit from better performance.
posted by xiix at 2:02 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, update:

My wifi has been absolutely awful all day so I'm not sure if there's a larger Verizon issue right now-- my state just went back into lockdown so maybe.

But I got an ethernet cable, and when connected via that, I'm at 85 mbps downloads, 15 uploads (plan is 100/100, so upload is definitely way slower than it should be). And the vpn connection isn't working even now at 6pm when presumably there's less traffic. So I'm going to follow up with the IT person tomorrow.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:15 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

You VPN is b0rked, and I would lean on the IT guy to cough up a newer laptop and also to be honest about whether their VPN box on the corporate network isn't a liiiiiitle overloaded these days.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:23 PM on December 3, 2020

For Verizon issues, try installing the My Fios app on your phone. The support section will run through the exact same troubleshooting tools that the call center uses for diagnosing slow internet connections.

I had to help troubleshoot accessing drives over VPN and there are two connections at play here. First is the VPN connection and second is the connection to the shared drive. It sounds like you can connect to the VPN (but not 100% of the time) and have never been able to access the drive.

For the VPN connection, has your IT person verified that your VPN IP address is correct? On Windows, after you get connected to your VPN, open up a command prompt and type the command: ipconfig. The IPv4 address listed under your Ethernet adapter (or Wireless LAN adapter) should be in the range of network addresses for your office VPN. If you provide the output from the ipconfig command to your IT person, they should be able to verify that you have a good VPN IP.

The 'network path not found' error when trying to map the shared drive might be due to a firewall blocking access to the server hosting the shared drive. Does your IT person manage that server as well? If so, then they should check if any firewall rules are preventing your VPN IP address from accessing the server. They should also verify that your VPN IP address can be routed to the server.

The majority of the drive mapping errors I fixed were due to a firewall blocking access. In one case, the VPN connected the user to an IP address that could not be routed to the server hosting the shared drive and it was solved by updating their VPN with a new IP address.
posted by hoppytoad at 5:42 AM on December 4, 2020

Can you buy a second connection to the Internet on a monthly basis? It will be hard to blame you if the laptop is connected to two different modems and has the same problems. Maybe you also know someone with an unused office with good Internet you could borrow for a little while until the company gets you a better laptop?
posted by flimflam at 10:23 AM on December 5, 2020

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