Connecting to the office from home

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Telecommuting, or remote access, is one of these things we’ve discussed for years which has never really taken off.

29 January 2005

The idea is great, you can work without going into the office, saving hours on the road commuting. You can check the accounts or diary without driving in, staff can login while away from the office and your accountant and IT guy can check things without charging you for their travelling time. It's a shame it never really took off.

For most people and businesses, the main problem has been communication costs. A high speed connection is necessary to get the most from a remote access connection. Until recently, those high speed connections were expensive and restricted only to big businesses.

With ADSL and cable broadband connections now common, remote access for small businesses is realistic. A successful setup requires three factors.

  1. A fixed IP address
    Every Internet connection gets its own address, this is essential for the computers to talk to each other. Most Internet plans provide a dynamic IP address, which means the address is just pulled out of the group owned by the ISP. For remote access, a static address is required so the remote computers know where to look.

    Cheap domestic broadband plans generally don’t offer static IP addresses. Some, like Bigpond, offer it as an add-on ($10 a month for Bigpond.) Also, if it is going to be important to your business, then a reliable business-grade connection is essential. 

  1. Software
    There are two types of remote access. Remote control and VPN (Virtual Private Networking.) Remote control allows a remote user to take control of a machine and is best for technicians and after hours access. A VPN connection is effectively a network connection where the remote computer is connected as if it was in an office.

    Remote control software packages include PC Anyware, GoToMyPC and RealVNC. The latter has the advantage of being free. The disadvantage with all of these programs is that the remote user will take control of one of the office computers.

    Virtual Private Networking allows the remote user to logon just like anyone else on the network. The software to allow users in is built into Windows NT, 2000 and 2003 servers as well as Windows XP Professional. Most systems can login with the correct setup.

  2. Security
    Obviously, if you are making a door onto the net available, security is essential. We recommend a firewall or router with VPN features and strong password protection. It’s also a good idea to restrict remote access only to certain users.

    If your office is the type where no-one bothers too much about passwords, you’ll have to change this before setting up remote access. Remote users should be restricted on what they can access when they log on. It’s a good idea to setup a proper security system before allowing remote access.

Once remote access is setup on the server, it’s a matter of setting up the individual clients. If you are using the built-in Windows VPN software, it’s a matter of creating a new connection in the Network Connections folder. For remote control software, you’ll receive a viewer or client program to install as part of the package.

Telecommuting and remote access is now affordable and, once set up, simple to use. There are cost and some expertise required in setting it up but for many small businesses the costs are worthwhile. If you think your business will benefit from it, then talk to your IT consultant.

info@pcrescue.com.au
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 36 082 635 765
ęPC Rescue Pty Ltd, 2008