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El Reg Article – Remote Users

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This is the first contribution to an article on The Register that I was asked to make as a “reader expert.” We were asked to submit a response to the question “How can I manage remote users better, particularly roving users who are only connected to the network on a sporadic basis?”

The original article can be found here.

Roaming users have requirements for offline data, as they get only infrequent chances to access the internet and thus connect to the corporate network. Unfortunately, many networks to which your users may gain access block all traffic except HTTP and SSL. Fortunately, in many cases supporting the secure synchronisation of data is possible relatively securely without the hassle of a VPN. Outlook Anywhere (as one example) works fine over an SSL connection, and so does WebDAV. Numerous other technologies exist to solve the problem of getting information into the users’ hands with varying levels of security. Another consideration is that a significant amount of information required offline is something that can be synced to a smart phone. Some smart phones (such as Blackberries) integrate very well with corporate networks, can be easily secured and even remotely wiped in case the device is lost while containing sensitive data.

If your users have more than very sporadic access to the internet, I heartily recommend embracing Virtual Desktop infrastructure (VDI). Sensitive information never has to leave the network, and virtual desktops can be managed far easier than (for example) a roaming user’s notebook. With the myriad of solutions available to access a given desktop over HTTP or SSL, VDI is also a solution that frequently works where VPNs are blocked. If your users can function with VDI and a secured smart phone you do not have to spend time attempting to police what users can and can not do with their notebooks.

As for the question of usability; depending on bandwidth availability, RDP enhancements from companies like Wyse can do some amazing things. If you search El Reg’s back articles, you’ll find several relating to companies that are offering VDI/RDP enhancements, and IBM is even jumping in and trying to make a profit from this very concept hosted on a large scale. Internet access is ubiquitous, and you don’t need a very big pipe for a basic RDP session.

VDI certainly doesn’t solve every remote access usage scenario; but when and where it can be applied, it certainly simplifies things. Start with VDI in mind and ask yourself what information your roving users require that can’t be adequately served by a remote session. The more information you must remove from the network, the more you must lock down devices that can access that information. Depending on your situation, the cost of an Air Card and contract might be far less than the hassle of offline synchronization.

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