How to remotely access your network

Working away from the office is much more commonplace these days, whether it be onsite with a client, or elsewhere for lifestyle reasons. Many people work from home when they have sick kids or to catch up on extra workload at night. Some people simply enjoy mixing things up and working from their local café, rather than sitting in the office. The traditional 9 to 5 work day is becoming less and less common.

While this can be an attractive way to work, not all companies utilise applications that have cloud services (the venerable MYOB application, for example) that allow users to log in via the internet and access their shared files, so they need to be able to remotely access their network and use desktop applications instead.

Read on for an overview of the three most common methods of remote access to corporation applications.

Working from home

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A virtual Private Network (VPN) is where a secure, private connection is established via the internet between your remote computer and your office network. You can think of it sort of like a really long network cable plugging your remote computer into your office network.

Although a VPN does require some equipment in the office to connect to, in most cases this can be handled by either a server or a router/firewall, which you likely already have in place. From there all that is required is some configuration changes on the office equipment, and a VPN icon added to your remote computer and you’re ready to go.

As with all remote access methods the performance of a VPN is subject to the speed of the internet path between the remote computer and the office network. VPN’s however can sometimes be the slowest method of remote access simply due to the nature of how they work.

    • Pros: Generally cheap to setup. Very secure. Scales well subject to internet speed.
    • Cons: Can be slow. Some software doesn’t work well via VPN
    • Best suited for: Highly secure environments or those on a tight budget.

Remote Desktop Server (aka Terminal Server or Citrix)

Remote Desktop Servers (RDS) are sometimes also known as either Terminal Servers or Citrix. Each of these is technically unique however for simplicity we’re going to consider them all under the same heading.

An RDS requires at least one dedicated server within the corporate network to which multiple remote users can connect simultaneously. Once connected each user will have their own remote control session on the server.

The server must have all necessary software installed (such as Microsoft Office) that the users may wish to use, as with an RDS server the software does not actually run on the user’s remote computer, but on the RDS itself. This results in a fairly efficient and fast experience for users, as the only network traffic the needs to move between the RDS and the remote user is screen updates and keyboard/mouse clicks.

Remote Desktop Server performance is subject to the internet speed between the remote user and the corporate network, however can generally operate effectively on slightly slower connections than a VPN. Given that the RDS itself is doing all of the heavy lifting of running multiple applications for multiple users simultaneously, RDS performance can also be subject to how powerful the server itself is, as well as how many users are connected at any one time.

    • Pros: May provide better performance than a VPN, although as will all options is subject to internet speed. Can offer better control over corporate data and applications. Scales well. Can be combined with a VPN for even higher security.
    • Cons: Can be expensive to implement. Not all software plays nicely on an RDS.
    • Best suited for: Organisations with more staff requiring more frequent remote access, or applications that don’t work via a VPN.

Remote Control Software

There are many situations where remote access is required but neither a VPN nor an RDS suit the circumstance. In this case you may find the answer in one of the many remote control applications available for download, such as GoToMyPC or TeamViewer.

These applications are generally either cheap or free to download and are installed on individual computer(s) within the corporate network. Once installed and configured a remote user can have the ability to remotely control the office computer via the internet.

These applications are generally cheap and easy to install, and work quite well, however are limited in that they will only allow a single remote user to control a single office PC at any one time.

    • Pros: Cheap & easy to setup. Generally work well subject to internet speed.
    • Cons: Does not scale well.
    • Best suited for: Occasional adhoc remote access where a user needs to remotely access their office computer.
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