• United States

Remote access recipes, Part 1

May 17, 20044 mins
Cisco SystemsRemote AccessVoIP

Ways to make your data available when the workplace isn’t.

If you or an employee can’t get to the office, can you still work?

One great thing about big companies is that they commission lots of market research studies small companies can benefit from. Cisco’s been pushing a telecommuting router (Model 831) because it found – with the help of Gartner Group – a huge hole in big company disaster preparations.

If the power goes out, 88% of enterprises are ready. If their servers and applications go out, 70% are prepared. But if their employees can’t get to the office due to bad weather, transportation strikes or even a sick child, only 13% of large companies have a plan.

Those of you with home offices shouldn’t be too smug. If you’re traveling, can you get to your information? Can you track a late shipment from a customer’s office from your sales and shipping application?

We’re going to solve these remote access problems in the coming weeks, so get ready to be more prepared than some of the largest companies in the world. You may be surprised at how much you can do to support remote work for not much money.

First, you need to decide what level of access you’re willing to pay for. Getting access to everything from everywhere will cost plenty. But if you narrow down your needs to making certain data files available from certain places, you can reach your goals with little expense.

Second, you need to keep these “work anywhere” goals in mind whenever you buy new hardware and software. Vendors are including Internet support and Web server software in a wide range of products, so check out the feature list to verify the products you buy push for geographical flexibility.

Next, here are some ways to make your data available when your workplace isn’t. No one answer will work for everyone, so expect to use a combination of tools.

Sometimes collecting e-mail from different locations sometimes is all you need, and nearly every e-mail service provider offers this feature for free or darn cheap.

If you followed regular advice, you run your Web and e-mail server at a hosting service. This makes it easy to get your e-mail anywhere you have Internet access. If you have a laptop or e-mail-enabled PDA, you can fetch your e-mail on the road as easily as at your desk. If you have Web e-mail support on your e-mail server (almost all hosted services include this), you can check your e-mail from any browser anywhere, including customer sites and public kiosks.

Many people use e-mail folders as a de facto knowledge base. Information comes and goes through e-mail, and leaving it in your e-mail folders makes great sense. You can mail your self a few critical files and leave them in the e-mail system for an emergency backup, and retrieve them from anywhere over the Internet. Next time, we’ll dive into some e-mail tricks and service providers that specialize in e-mail support.

Getting files from office storage (desktops or servers) when you’re away is a bit more difficult. This makes a good candidate for paying a small sum each month for online storage or using a private directory on your Web host to store critical files. File storage is the focus in two weeks, and you can check out Toni Kistner’s report on some new options. 

When exploring services, you might want to consider collaborative suites of applications that provide great convenience for scattered team members. If your files are available to Clete in Cleveland and Darrel in Dallas, they’re also available to you wherever you can get Internet access. Two new companies offering free product trials are HyperOffice and BaseCampHQ. After some partners and I play with these for three weeks, we’ll give you a report.

Finally, voice-over-IP phones can spread your office phones to any location with Internet access. I’m testing a system now from AIP Communications and will report on it soon, too.

If you have favorites in any of these upcoming areas, please share the name of the service and how you use it. If you have problems in these areas, let me know those as well, and I’ll dig into that problem for you if possible.

Those of you in the D.C., New York City, Chicago and Houston areas, please check the schedule of Network World’s Technology Tour “Remote Office Networking” this June. Come up and introduce yourself to Toni and me as a reader and we’ll give you a prize (yeah, it’s bribery).