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‘Virtual nets’ let remote users sync files when back at the office

Opinion
Jan 26, 20064 mins
Data Center

* File synchronization

I am often tempted to apply some law of physics to social or business endeavors. In this case the temptation for me is to take Newton’s inverse square law (which explains how gravity diminishes as the distance between two objects increases) and fit it to IT, restating things to indicate that the quality of IT services decreases at a rate that is proportionate to the square of the distance between the remote office and the data center. In other words, the further away a remote office is, the worse the service is apt to get.

This doesn’t work, of course. By and large, once you are away from the data center things tend to go downhill quickly no matter where you are.

One of the most challenging problems for any IT manager is supporting remote offices. Users in the hinterlands frequently have needs that are identical to those of their co-workers back at the main corporate facilities, but the distance that separates those remote users from the central core of corporate data services sometimes becomes a near-insurmountable obstacle when it comes to providing even the most basic IT support. Also, it seems that distance is less of an issue than the size of the office that needs to be protected.

It is usually a bad situation for any knowledge worker who works where there is no on-site support, but it is a worst-case circumstance for those who work at smaller branch offices and home offices. If a remote office is large, wide area file services (WAFS) solutions can often be applied in a cost-efficient manner. If the office is small however, perhaps with six or fewer people, it is often hard for a central IT budget to justify the expense involved in implementing a WAFS environment that moves data quickly and enables efficient deployment of IT services. So data at many (most?) remote and home offices, and on just about all mobile laptops that accompany corporate road warriors, often goes unprotected.

Several alternatives present themselves as answers to this problem. Some companies offer services (service providers are indeed back!) that can be applied to remote offices, and some of the WAFS companies are beginning to offer scaled-down, more easily affordable appliances that may make good financial sense in smaller remote offices. But what about those of us who travel, and on occasion have been known to drop our laptops or forget to back them up when we get back to the office?

Happily, there is help for us too.

Tacit Networks is known as a WAFS provider, but because of its recent acquisition of Mobiliti, it also offers services for very small offices and for individual remote users. Users can create a “virtual network” on their laptops, so that the environment looks the same whether or not they are physically connected to the net. The product, called “Network Unplugged,” is a replicated environment that provides virtual drive mappings and file locations that are identical to what applications would see during a physical connection. The software captures all changes that occur since the time of the last connection; then, when the user reconnects to the network, the changes are passed off to the central server and synchronized.

Because only delta blocks are passed to the server, backup and synchronization times should be short. If synchronization is as short as it is claimed to be (and keep in mind there is no VPN here) this may have an interesting influence on the way people work remotely. Lacking the overhead of a VPN and large data transfers, data may now become “keepable” on the corporate server. Without the hassle of using a VPN, moving the “My Documents” folder to the data center may become a viable alternative at last.