Using remote access (RA), remote workers can transfer files to and from the base system. They can process in-house email and allow their machines to act as if they were connected to the office LAN. Remote workers can even take over control of a host machine situated at the office (remote control operation or RC).
The epitome of the remote worker, of course, is teleworking. The escalating costs of office accommodation can make it much more financially sensible for a company to have some of its workforce located at their own homes and it brings with it increased productivity, according to many studies.
So how does a teleworker keep in touch with the office network?
Microsoft NT RAS
If your network is based on Windows NT, then you've got remote access built in via NT's Remote Access Services. RAS provides remote node operation (RN) access.
With this, the remote machine dialling in via the PSTN or ISDN (or any other technology) is mapped as part of the network. The remote user sees what he would see were he connected to the LAN. All network resources that the remote user would have were he physically present in the office are available across the dial-up link - file systems, printers, network fax.
Effectively, the office network cabling can be thought of as being routed through the dial-up connection. Windows 95 as a client to Windows NT RAS is particularly effective as a matched solution - the RAS client is part of the operating system, and will play a major part in the forthcoming Memphis release.
Using Internet Explorer 3.x as part of an RN connection, remote users can also share data in real time. For instance Net Meeting, which is part of the IE3.x suite, allows for collaborative working across such a connection.
Microcom Carbon Copy
Communications specialist Microcom has a family of RC products that also allow RN working. The Carbon Copy family now includes Carbon Copy 32, specifically tailored for Windows NT and Windows 95. Its remote control functions are particularly useful for RN working, in that what the remote user sees on-screen is what is actually happening on the host machine.
As an example, a Windows 95 user accessing a Windows NT host would see on his PC screen exactly what would be shown on the NT machine's screen.
In a support environment, for instance, a support technician can access the remote machine and watch as its user works through a task, noting the point at which things go awry, and proceeding from there.
Like MS RAS, collaborative computing is as easy as that - two users working on the same application at the same time. And, with built-in support for ASVD and DSVD modems, both voice and data can be sent over the same connection, which obviates the need for a separate voice call. Carbon Copy also supports Microsoft RAS connections, as well as TCP/IP connections over the Internet.
In addition, Carbon Copy's host feature can await calls from more than one transport mechanism. It can monitor a modem, TCP/IP network connections and direct cable access simultaneously and includes a PC-to-PC direct connect cable in the box. For trainers, it also supports many-to-one connections, so that a number of networked machines could all connect to one host for the purpose of a trainer demonstrating a particular technique onscreen.
One of the better known RC products is pcAnywhere, with 66% of the market, according to analyst PC Data (January 1996 figures). Again available in 32-bit and 16-bit flavours, as well as DOS and Windows variants, pcAnywhere provides similar functionality to Carbon Copy. It also offers file synchronisation functions using its SpeedSend technology, which transfers only parts of the file that have changed, thus saving on-line time, and, of course, money.
pcAnywhere can, like Carbon Copy and ReachOut, await calls from two connection devices - one less than either of its competitors. But it does allow a client machine to connect to multiple hosts simultaneously. To increase the speed of remote control, pcAnywhere allows the user to disable remote screen wallpapers, screensavers and full window dragging. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be shuttled across the connection, making room for its synchronous RN/RC mode, where node-type tasks can be completed whilst in RC mode.
pcAnywhere can also make connections over the Internet, and supports the major network protocols - TCP/IP. IPX/SPX, NetBIOS, NetWare and so on.
Launched in February 1997 in the UK, Stac ReachOut 7 promises native 32-bit Windows NT 4.0 support as well as access to remote hosts via the Internet for RC purposes, using ActiveX controls to enable Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator to control any ReachOut-hosting desktop PC.
Using ReachOut 7, a remote machine running Windows 3.11, for instance, can access a Windows NT machine (or DOS or Windows 95) - indeed, Stac claims cross platform compatibility where the only exceptions are controlling Windows NT from DOS, or DOS from a web browser.
Among its more outstanding features is security. A facility called IntruderGuard locks the host computer from accepting calls if a user-configurable limit of incorrect passwords is entered, while data encryption should help monitoring of unwanted calls. To complete the security set, an audit trail of calls logged is kept, and, finally, transferred data is automatically checked for viruses.
Its security features are enhanced by its integration with Windows NT User Manager to provide a single user name and password list, which means NT account security is maintained across RC connections.
Like Carbon Copy, ReachOut can also await calls from modems, networks and the Internet, but has no many-to-one connection facility. Echoing pcAnywhere, it also transfers only those portions of files that have changed (Stac calls this facility SmartSend), and, in synchronisation modes, automatically keeps data marked for synchronisation up to date.
Handily, it can keep files that have to be stored on a non long-filename capable machine synchronised with their long filename counterparts on host machines
The ideal world
The products mentioned above are not an exhaustive list of remote access and remote control applications, but represent the majority of the installed user base.
The question is, how does an organisation employ remote access functionality to enhance its efforts? In an ideal world, remote users would have access to both remote node and remote control, depending on the mix of tasks they have to complete, and the power of the hardware they would be using to access the host.
For instance, a lowly specified 486 running Windows 3.11 may not be able to run the corporate standard Microsoft Office 97 applications, but using RC technology, could act as a window onto a machine in the office that can, enabling a remote user to complete work that he otherwise would have to do in the office.
By the same token, applications that will run successfully on the client machine can be run using remote node technology, and effectively be considered as just another node on a rather larger network. A mix of the two methodologies, depending on the mix of applications, can supply the ideal solution to the need for remote access services for itinerant or teleworking users.
Organisations using Windows NT as their server technology would do well to consider a mix of RAS and one or other of the 32-bit variants of the third-party applications mentioned.
Each of the companies and products mentioned above have web sites with demonstration versions of their software available:
Remote access: does your company need it?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you and your organisation are candidates for remote access implementation. If your answer yes to four or more, it ought to be a priority:
- Does your organisation have employees who spend most of their time away from the office?
- Do any of the employees find themselves working in different time zones or at weird hours of the night?
- Do any employees use both a fixed and a portable PC?
- Would any employees find it useful to be able to access office printers, files etc. from their homes?
- Does your organisation have branch offices with less than 12 employees working from them?
- Does your organisation provide remote support services to branch offices or other businesses?
- Does your organisation have remote employees with Email addresses as part of their fixed PCs in the office, yet who spend extended periods away from base?
- Does your organisation run applications that will not run successfully on low-powered home PCs, or require access to server-held data?
- Would allowing employees to telework result in a cost benefit and greater productivity?
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