Over the years we have used a variety of software products to communicate with our clients, diagnose problems and send changes electronically as needed. From Carbon Copy to PC Anywhere, the first of these products employed modems and conventional phone lines to transmit data and program changes.The main problems with these products were speed and connection reliability and long distance connections were often nearly impossible.
With the advent of the Internet most companies directed their efforts toward communications that were Internet based. PC Anywhere made the transition but was not particularly good at navigating complex routers and firewalls. To transmit data and program changes simple e-mail has become the norm, but other software solutions are required for more complex tasks.
Several companies, most notably Citrix with “GoTo My PC”, introduced products that could more easily navigate the Internet’s hurdles and connect one PC to another. This was useful for users that needed to connect from their home computer to their computer at the office. These products went the route of a monthly or yearly fee as apposed to one time purchased product like PC Anywhere. Typical fees are $15 a month for the first computer and $5 per additional computer on the same plan. These systems are good for remote support and file transfer.
With the advent of Windows Based Servers other companies including Citrix and Microsoft introduced server based remote access software. Citrix produces some excellent products in this market, but they tend to be rather expensive. Microsoft has built in a quite viable solution called Terminal Services into their Windows 2003 Servers. Like Citrix this allows a remote user to connect to the file server at the office and access a variety of programs and files as dictated by the user’s security profile. The cost is a more reasonable $100 per user making the solution a more cost effective solution than the equivalent Citrix product. Citrix products on the other hand may be a little faster in a similar role, so cost versus performance becomes the main issue.
ROUTERS AND VPN’S
Connecting to Citrix or Terminal Services requires a security device known as a VPN or Virtual Private Network. This provides a secure connection between a computer on the outside of the office and the file server on the inside.
While Windows Server can provide the VPN access directly, the recommended approach is to allow a good router to provide the actual VPN connection. This provides additional layers of security to separate your important data from the outside world. The router then manages a specific list of VPN user names and passwords to provide access to the VPN. Additional user names and passwords are required to access the file server providing the VPN can be established.
For most companies this is excellent security. Beyond this you can spend thousands of dollars for high-end router/firewall combinations but these are generally overkill for most companies.
Once you have navigated the VPN and logged into the server you are presented with a personalized Windows Desktop that can contain Libra Accounting or other software options. Your access to the data is similar to being at the remote site since you are functioning within a user window on the Terminal Services Server.
You use the Remote Desktop program in the case of Terminal Services to access the remote server and it provides options to permit access to local resources as well. The most common of these would be local printers. So you can enter data directly to the remote server and print proof listings and posting journals to your local printer. The only limitation on this is that the Windows 2003 server must have a compatible printer driver for the printer you are using. Many small personal printer manufacturers do not write drivers for Windows Server products, which means that a lot of printers cannot be used.
For Dot-Matrix printers you can get around this by employing a Generic Text Driver. Smaller laser and inkjet models may not be usable however. Most larger HP Laserjet Printers are compatible.