• United States
Contributing Writer

Backstage with James Gaskin

May 31, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

Flextime, extended days, telecommuting, mobile computing. Whatever the term, the number of workers demanding network access from beyond the traditional corporate walls is rapidly increasing. And IT managers are feeling the pressure to support anytime, anywhere access to enterprise applications, corporate data and other resources. To help administrators better manage these types of users, Network World next month is launching its first  Remote Office Networking Technology Tour. Network World Events Editor Sandra Gittlen spoke with keynoter James Gaskin about IT’s challenge in supporting remote workforces.

The term “remote office” has evolved over the past few years. What does IT consider a “remote office” today?

It seems every employee not sitting at a desk in headquarters is now a remote office. The days of a remote office being a place with a group of people in one building connected back to the main office with a phone company data link are long gone. Now any employee with a laptop or PDA is a remote office. I call this the “socks-based” office. Wherever an employee goes today, his/her remote office support needs go along in a briefcase or pocket.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in remote-office networking over the past year?

The number of demands made by the remote worker and the ability of companies to answer most of those demands. IT departments have done a good job delivering a usable work environment to remote workers, which means the remote workers keep asking for more. Complete phone support, including PBX integration, data security and automated backup processes, and security including spam and virus controls, are all on the “can do” list. Not always neat and coordinated and polished, perhaps, but they all can be done.

What are some key techniques for IT managers in helping to manage remote offices, telecommuters and mobile workers?

Planning, when possible, makes life easier. Every new service or application must be scrutinized for the ability to deliver that service to every employee everywhere.

There are thousands of legacy services that must be retrofitted to support remote users, and that’s much more trouble. Many of the remote management applications don’t yet integrate into enterprise management suites, so remote users are managed separately. That will get better over the next couple of years, but it’s tough at times today.

Too often, the remote workers are on their own for security, backup, virus protection, authentication controls and setting up remote connections from public spaces.

When IT managers are considering new applications for the enterprise, should they also look at how the apps could be rolled out to remote offices? Or is that still secondary to how they fit in the corporate network?

Every application and service should be available to every appropriate user regardless of location. The corporate network now extends to every Starbucks with a hot spot, and services should be available for employees sipping their mocha lattes in Starbucks as if they’re sitting at their office desk sipping mocha lattes. If a new application can’t be used while in a taxi, is it ready for the modern enterprise? Maybe not.

IT has pretty much had to chart a new course when it comes to managing remote and mobile offices. Do you think that job has gotten any easier?

I feel for IT managers because every time they get close to handling remote and mobile users, new services and new demands from users increase the complexity again. It’s a see-saw now, as new management tools come out followed by newer services with little or no management framework. Back and forth. But IT will keep running until they catch up, and that will be in the next few years.

Security is a critical issue for remote offices – how do you see the tools to handle this evolving? And are they keeping up with and integrating well with the legacy tools for the enterprise?

The security infrastructure should become invisible for remote users just as it is for local users. Desk-bound employees don’t worry about the Ethernet connection under their desk.

New tools establish a secure connection between remote devices back to headquarters before any data traffic begins, including what most people consider “normal” security like username and password. This is a good trend. IT can keep up with increasingly insecure locations that must support secure connections, although it’s still difficult.

What do you predict will be the biggest change or advance in remote-office networking over the next year?

I think the killer app will be a security breakthrough. Remote and mobile users mean security problems, and products that establish a secure and encrypted link between laptops and PDAs based on chips or pre-boot software routines will ease minds of IT managers everywhere.