AWS Direct Connect vs. VPN: In-Depth Comparison

May 11, 2023


AWS Direct Connect and AWS VPN enable secure communication between the client's on-premises infrastructure and the AWS Cloud services. However, they differ in terms of their features, capabilities, and the use cases they cater to.

This article will compare the two services, discuss their features, pros, and cons, and define the possible use cases for each one.

AWS Direct Connect vs. AWS VPN - an in-depth comparison.

AWS Direct Connect vs. VPN: Main Differences

There are multiple ways of connecting your infrastructure to Amazon Web Services, with each option leveraging either AWS Direct Connect or a VPN, or a combination of both. The options are equally viable, but each caters to a different use case and corresponds to different business requirements.

The following table lists the key differences between AWS Direct Connect and AWS VPN:

FeatureAWS Direct ConnectAWS VPN
PurposeProvides a dedicated connection between on-premises infrastructure and AWS services, bypassing the public Internet.Provides a secure, encrypted remote access to AWS resources using the public Internet.
Network TypeA physical, dedicated connection.A virtual private connection (VPC) over the Internet.
BandwidthRanging from 1-10 Gbps.Limited by the available Internet bandwidth.
LatencyVery low latency due to being a dedicated connection. Choosing the closest region lowers latency additionally.Higher latency than Direct Connect because the connection uses the public Internet.
CostMore expensive than VPN because dedicated infrastructure is required.More cost-effective because it uses existing Internet connections.
Setup ComplexityMore complex to set up and it requires physical connections.Easier to set up since it is configurable through software.
SecurityThe connection is more secure as there is no exposure to the public Internet.VPN relies on encryption and security measures over the public Internet.

The sections below cover the two connectivity options in detail, listing the pros and cons and key use cases.

What is AWS Direct Connect

AWS Direct Connect is a dedicated network connection that bypasses the public Internet to create a secure connection between your on-premises infrastructure and AWS. The connection occurs over a fiber-optic Ethernet cable, with one end connected to your router and the other connected to an AWS router.

The Direct Connect connections are high-speed, low-latency connections, ideal for scenarios where substantial amounts of data need to be transferred with consistent network performance. AWS provides different Direct Connect locations across the world to allow users to select the one closest to them.

Note: phoenixNAP allows you to establish a Direct Connect connection using its enterprise-grade data centers in multiple locations around the world. Learn about how can you set up and configure AWS Direct Connect with phoenixNAP.

The connection is suitable for businesses that need secure, low-latency connections to AWS services. Although provisioning AWS Direct Connect can sometimes be time-consuming, the result is superior network performance and security.

The following diagram illustrates the Direct Connect connection:

A diagram that shows how AWS Direct Connect works.

Pros and Cons of AWS Direct Connect

It's important to weigh the pros and cons of AWS Direct Connect before deciding to implement it. The two following lists highlight the key pros and cons of AWS Direct Connect:


  • Provides a high-performance, low-latency, dedicated network connection between the client's infrastructure and AWS resources.
  • The connection is private, bypassing the public Internet, which reduces the risk of data breaches or cyber attacks.
  • Helps reduce data transfer costs by bypassing the public Internet and utilizing the AWS private network. Additionally, AWS offers custom pricing plans for customers who transfer large amounts of data via Direct Connect.
  • Enables hybrid cloud connectivity by allowing clients to extend their on-premises infrastructure to the cloud. The extension allows businesses to leverage the benefits of both types of infrastructure, including increased scalability and flexibility.
  • The network traffic remains on the AWS global network which reduces the chance of hitting bottlenecks or getting unexpected latency spikes.

Note: Learn more about different types of cyber attacks and how can they impact your business.


  • Requires additional infrastructure and resources, which results in overall higher costs compared to public Internet connections. Additionally, the setup time can be up to 12 weeks.
  • The setup and maintenance are more complex than public Internet connections since it requires additional networking expertise and resources.
  • AWS Direct Connect is available only in certain locations, which can limit its usefulness for businesses that operate in regions where it is not available.
  • Since Direct Connect is a dedicated connection to a specific AWS region, it can result in a single point of failure if the connection is lost or disrupted.
  • The data can be encrypted using MACsec but this comes with limitations regarding the supported speed and locations.

Use Cases for AWS Direct Connect

AWS Direct Connect has many use cases that benefit a wide range of industries. This section explores the most common use cases of AWS Direct Connect.

Use AWS Direct Connect for:

  • Reduced Network Latency. AWS Direct Connect is a dedicated, high-speed network connection that significantly reduces latency between the client's infrastructure and AWS. Low latency is particularly important for apps that need low-latency, real-time data transfers, such as financial trading systems.
  • Increased Security. The connection is private and dedicated, it bypasses the public Internet, which reduces the risk of data breaches and cyber-attacks.
  • Cost Savings. AWS Direct Connect can reduce data transfer costs by bypassing the public Internet and transferring data via AWS' private network. Additionally, AWS offers custom pricing plans for large data transfers.
  • Hybrid Cloud Connectivity. Direct Connect enables hybrid cloud connectivity by allowing customers to extend their on-premises infrastructure to the cloud.
  • Big Data Analytics. Since Direct Connect provides a high-bandwidth, low-latency connection, it is fast and efficient, making it suitable for big data analytics.

What is AWS VPN

AWS Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an Amazon Web Services offering that allows users to connect their on-premises infrastructure to the AWS cloud using the public Internet. The connection establishes an encrypted tunnel between the client's local network and the VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) in AWS.

The VPN connection utilizes IPSec to establish an encrypted connection, which allows users to securely access their resources as if they were on their own network. AWS VPN also allows users to extend their existing security and management policies to the VPC.

The connection is a great option for businesses that are getting started with AWS as it is easy to set up. The main downside is that it utilizes the public Internet, which means the performance can fluctuate, and that there are some security concerns, despite the encryption.

The following diagram illustrates the AWS VPN connection:

A diagram that shows how AWS VPN works.

Pros and Cons of AWS VPN

AWS VPN provides a secure and encrypted connection to AWS resources. While it offers numerous benefits to organizations, it also has limitations, making it unsuitable for some use cases.

The following lists contain the pros and cons of AWS VPN:


  • AWS VPN is a secure and encrypted connection to AWS resources over the public Internet. The VPN connection reduces the risk of data breaches and cyber attacks.
  • Supports hybrid cloud connectivity, allowing customers to extend their infrastructure to the cloud.
  • Cheaper than AWS Direct Connect, making it more suitable for smaller businesses or organizations with lower data transfer requirements.
  • VPN connections can be set up much faster than Direct Connect, suitable for clients who need fast deployment.
  • Not limited by geographic location - customers can connect to AWS resources from any location with an Internet connection.


  • Network performance depends on public Internet congestion, making it slower than AWS Direct Connect in such cases. The bandwidth is also lower and depends on the provider.
  • Lacks the scalability and high availability that Direct Connect offers.
  • The network performance and security are lower than Direct Connect. Therefore, it is unsuitable for larger businesses or organizations with higher data transfer needs.

Use Cases for AWS VPN

The VPN connection covers a wide range of use cases. This section lists common use cases:

  • Remote Access. Use AWS VPN to securely connect to your organization's AWS resources from any location in the world. This is useful for businesses with a distributed workforce or those who are working remotely.
  • Site-to-Site Connectivity. The connection is secure and encrypted, allowing businesses to securely extend their existing infrastructure to the cloud.
  • Multi-Cloud Connectivity. Use AWS VPN to connect multiple cloud environments to establish secure, encrypted connections between AWS resources and resources in other cloud environments. This is useful for apps that require resources from multiple cloud providers.
  • Compliance. Since the connection is encrypted, VPN helps ensure that sensitive data is protected during transfer. This feature helps you meet various data security and privacy compliance requirements.
  • Disaster Recovery. The connection can be used to facilitate disaster recovery by allowing customers to access their AWS resources in the event of a disaster or outage.

AWS Direct Connect + VPN

While the two connection options are standalone solutions, they can be combined to leverage the benefits of the IPSec VPN connection and the low-latency high-bandwidth connection of AWS Direct Connect. The combination provides consistent network connectivity with elevated data security and reliability.

In this combination, Direct Connect provides a dedicated, private connection to AWS resources, with lower latency than standard Internet connections. VPN compensates for the lack of encryption by encrypting the traffic. Using AWS VPN to create a secure VPN connection over Direct Connect, businesses create a highly secure and reliable connection to AWS.

AWS VPN and AWS Direct Connect allow you to create a hybrid cloud environment. This combination provides a seamless and secure connection to AWS resources and simplifies network management with overall improved data security.

For example, combining VPN and Direct Connect would be beneficial in a scenario where remote workers need to access an enterprise network securely from various locations in the world. You can use Direct Connect to create a dedicated connection between your data center and AWS resources, while remote workers use VPN to securely access the network from any location.


This article compared AWS Direct Connect and AWS VPN, two connectivity solutions from Amazon Web Services. The comparison included their features, capabilities, and use cases, and listed the pros and cons for each solution.

Use AWS Direct Connect for high performance and compliance requirements, and AWS VPN for scenarios that require flexible and easy-to-manage connectivity. Check out AWS Direct Connect vs. AWS PrivateLink comparison article to see how these two AWS services are different.

If you're considering both Amazon and Microsoft services, our post AWS Direct Connect vs. Azure ExpressRoute will help you make the right choice.

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Bosko Marijan
Having worked as an educator and content writer, combined with his lifelong passion for all things high-tech, Bosko strives to simplify intricate concepts and make them user-friendly. That has led him to technical writing at PhoenixNAP, where he continues his mission of spreading knowledge.
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