Remote access shouldn't be a problem these days. Do you know anyone who doesn't have a modem and an account with an ISP? Herein lies the problem. Your customers just want their staff to be able to contact the office from home or hotel, but they don't want to become an ISP. Take a quick tour of a real ISP office to find out why. There's an awful lot of scary-looking gadgets with flashing lights and a veritable army of nerds chattering on about line-dropouts and modem mismatches. Not a pretty sight. And certainly not something your customers would be happy to manage. You won't be very happy either, if you choose the wrong solution and send your customer into pseudo-ISP hell.
The easiest customers, when it comes to providing them with a remote access solution, are those that do everything via the Web. Just sell them a laptop, a modem and let them dial any ISP. They'll be connected to their office in no time at all from anywhere at all.
Unfortunately, not very many businesses have reached the stage where they can provide everything their staff need via a browser. So if they want more than e-mail and Web surfing you're going to have to provide them with something more.
There's a strong temptation to download the free RRAS (routing and remote access services) add-on for their Windows NT server, plug in a couple of modems and go home. There are a lot of sites doing just that, and some resellers are happy to provide this service. It's fairly cheap and it does work, but there are several pitfalls to avoid.
The first is the propensity of RRAS to stop working. Usually the only way to make it work again is to reboot the server. This causes untold grief in small businesses which only have one server. Everyone in the office gets the royal order of the boot so that the few remote users can get going again. It costs more, but if you must go with an RRAS solution, try your hardest to sell them a separate NT server for the job. NT servers that have no purpose in life other than RRAS seem to be a lot more stable, so you improve the experience for remote users and their no-longer interrupted office colleagues.
If you've agreed with this proposition and are about to build an RRAS box, you'll increase the performance and reliability if you choose a clever add-in card to handle the dial-ups. The built-in COM ports always seem to lack something or other that in-bound modems need. And lots of small servers only have one or two ports, none of which are likely to be available due to some other essential gadget like a UPS or mouse occupying the space. Grab a well-designed serial-port card from Digi or Stallion and plug in your favourite external modems. However, external modems take up space and steal valuable power outlets. Both those companies also provide solutions with the whole modem already on the cards, making things even easier.
If your customers require serious amounts of dial-in you can get cards that handle ISDN connections, giving you up to 30 dial-in lines. You don't need modems if you go with this solution, as the cards have DSPs (digital signal processors) - essentially software modems. They come in flavours from a single ISDN feed right up to full primary rate connections. This can be an attractive solution if the customer also has a branch office. They can use the same card and connect via ISDN to the head office.
Once you get to this level of serious dial-in capacity, it's time to look at the low end of the toys that real ISPs use. Any vendor that makes a router these days seems to also make a dial-in concentrator. So you know who the usual suspects are. Cisco, Nortel, Intel. Intel? Yes, it bought Shiva, makers of fine dial-in gadgets for all sorts of businesses.
You might not know that Stallion also plays in this market segment with its Lantra servers. This is a clever box that gives you the advantages of the high-end purpose-built dial-in solution, but behaves like an NT RRAS device on the network. The Lantra server somehow convinces the NT server that its COM ports have floated off the back panel and landed somewhere else on the network. You get the advantage of easy installation and management using familiar NT tools with the benefits of the separate box approach. Of course, the router people give you easy-to-install-and-manage solutions as well, but you need to use their tools. It depends on whether you think NT is now an `open' standard and everyone else's tools are therefore proprietary.
The stand-alone dial-in solutions have other advantages, such as being manageable via a Web interface. This means you can sometimes reset them without going to the office. You might even give remote users the ability to reset the things themselves - then again, maybe not . . .
Your average road warrior is probably not going to see if the other 10 users are also locked up before hitting the reset button. But it does mean that support staff can initiate basic maintenance from a distance. Of course, if your customer buys into the remote access solution, you also get access. That can really help when it comes to doing other systems maintenance and customer support tasks. You might want to sell the solution on that basis initially - then they get a bonus being able to dial in themselves. Smart resellers are wising up to the advantages of being able to reach in to a problem server without leaving their desks.
Your customer can have the whole remote access experience without the local hardware, if you implement a virtual private network and have road warriors connecting over the Internet. We told you all about that in the August 11 issue. There is a reason to keep back issues of ARN after all. If you're not the bower bird type, don't panic, just go to http://arn.idg. com.au and you'll find what you're looking for.iPass enhances remote serviceBy James NiccolaiCalifornia-based iPass recently announced two improvements to its Internet-based remote access service, which allow mobile workers to dial into the Internet and their corporate intranets from around the world, according to the company.
The improvements include new client software that monitors the dial-in experience of individual end users, allowing iPass to strike what it says will be `meaningful' service-level agreements with its customers. The com-pany also unveiled an initiative to make it easier for companies to combine the iPass service with third-party security software to build VPNs (virtual private networks).iPass doesn't sell its service directly to businesses; instead, it has partnered with more than 650 ISPs and carriers worldwide who resell the iPass service with their own offerings.
The multiple partnerships allow iPass to offer more than 4000 access points in 150 countries. In Australia, iPass access points are located in 37 major cities and regional centres. Moreover, because the company has more than one partner in most countries, the service carries a high level of redundancy. If one network is unavailable, the user can try a different provider. iPass thinks of itself as a `clearing house' for the world's networks, said Karen Chakmakian, director of marketing and a co-founder of iPass.
`We're paving the way for an Internet-based remote access service that will work from anywhere in the world with a very high level of reliability,' Chakmakian said.
The service works like this. When a remote worker dials into a local ISP, the provider can tell by the worker's log-in that he or she is an iPass customer. The call then gets routed to a `transaction centre' - one of a collection of iPass servers scattered around the world. Using 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, the transaction server verifies the user's identity and connects them to their corporate network. The iPass server also logs the length of the call for billing purposes.
Remote workers get the local access phone numbers from an international phone book with their client software, which updates itself automatically when the user is online.
The new client software allows iPass to monitor the experience of each remote worker using its service. While other remote access providers guarantee service levels based on aggregate network performance, the new client software will enable iPass to offer service-level agreements based on the performance experienced by any one customer, Chakmakian said.
Existing iPass customers will have to download the new client software to get the new capabilities, she said.
Companies interested in reselling iPass services should contact the company via e-mail at: (firstname.lastname@example.org).http://www.ipass.comLucent steps up pipeline remote access lineBy David RohdeLucent has expanded the Pipeline remote access concentrator and router line that it obtained as part of its recent purchase of Ascend Communications.
The company's two new products, the SuperPipe 95 and SuperPipe 155, are multi-service access devices intended for telecommuters and remote branch offices, respectively. Both devices have analog as well as ISDN ports, meaning users can maintain access to corporate nets or the Internet while routing voice calls over public switched telephone network lines, if necessary.
Steve Reustle, managing director of product management for the Pipeline family, says the boxes will go up against Cisco's 1600 and 1720 remote access routers and 3Com's NetBuilder II. Analysts say the Lucent products offer few new features compared to competitors' boxes but they bundle in security and other features under one price.
One current Pipeline model, the Pipeline 75, already provides voice and data connectivity. But the new boxes have a much faster processor, the Motorola 860, which provides 66 MIPS of processing power versus 4.5 MIPS on the Pipeline 75.
That means the new devices can support interfaces to 100Mbps Fast Ethernet and standard 10Mbps shared Ethernet. Plus, the larger of the new boxes, the SuperPipe 155, supports a T-1 or fractional T-1 WAN interface that may be needed by corporate branch offices. The SuperPipe 155 can then use T-1 access to the corporate net with the dual ISDN interfaces used for overflow. Reustle suggests that some users may choose the dual ISDN Basic Rate Interfaces as a cost-effective WAN alternative to the nearly equivalent bandwidth of 256Kbps frame relay.
Lucent also expects the boxes to be picked up as an enhanced product offering by ISPs looking to offer managed services, including IP virtual private nets. ISPs already make up a large portion of Ascend's installed base.
Routing support in the new boxes includes IP, IPX and AppleTalk. That support comes as a separate feature pack for an extra cost in the Cisco products. Firewalls and IP Security-based encryption also come standard on the Lucent boxes.
John Armstrong, chief networking analyst at Dataquest, says the SuperPipe 95 may be too expensive. But the SuperPipe 155 may work well for branch offices at, especially because Lucent isn't charging extra for security features. He adds that the real potential for voice/data multi-service access routers won't be met until vendors add digital subscriber line and cable modem support for those markets.
The Lucent products are available now.
Lucent 1800 242 580 http://www.lucent.com/dns/products/pipeline.htmlwhat's new from . . .
. . . Shiva
The family of Shiva LanRover remote access servers (RAS) was created with small and medium businesses that need flexible, easy remote access to information in mind. Shiva claims the LanRover range offers network managers excellent performance in the areas of configuration, monitoring and management. Described as highly flexible, the LanRover RAS range is said to enable transparent access to information regardless of the user's whereabouts. The range provides scalability, standardised management and support, the LanRover/E and /T for Ethernet and token ring, and offers dial-in, dial-out, Internet and LAN-to-LAN connections for up to eight concurrent sessions using external modems.
LanRover RAS highlights
Support for up to eight concurrent sessionsMulti-platform, multi-protocol architectureEnhanced IP support and integration with third-party security solutionsShared dial-out and fax technologyThe LanRover/E and /T PLUS offers a flexible, modular card architecture28KB EPROM2MB battery backed-up SRAMShiva Australia (02) 9937 5822. . . DIGIThe US company's AccelePort RAS family comprises several integrated modem adapters for high-speed analog connections, targeted at the growing number of dial-in/dial-out services users conscious of the expense and overhead of stand-alone proprietary boxes.
In the world of standard open-systems PC servers, Digi claims that `AccelePort RAS adapters are beginning to take on unified communications tasks for businesses of all sizes by efficiently handling remote communications and performing as Internet and fax gateways for dial-in users'.
Over the years, Digi has forged a number of long-standing partnerships, jointly developing products with industry leaders such as Compaq, IBM, Microsoft and Novell. Those partnerships and joint ventures helped Digi secure a reputation for compatibility, performance and reliability of its products.
AccelePort Family highlights
Technologically advanced RAS (remote access services) multi-modem adapters provide wide compatibility and powerful performance for demanding, server-based applications including modem pooling, remote access, advanced fax, Web and branch office gatewaysThe dense modem technology built into the AccelePort RAS adapters is based on industry-standard DSPs (digital signal processors) that provide advanced modem and fax support and maximise the efficiency of each communications channelSupports analog speeds to 56Kbps/V.90Universal 2.1 PCI server complianceWide O/S and third-party application supportFive-year warrantyDistributed by:
Sealcorp (02) 9878 8888
T Data (02) 9980 8122
Tech Pacific (02) 9381 6000
Westcon (02) 9316 4522
. . . Stallion
A flexible access server for TCP/IP-based networks, Stallion's Easy Server II delivers on-demand dial-up remote access and routing, as well as serial connectivity for server computers for small and medium businesses.
Offering a wide range of networking features in one cost-effective package, the company claims EasyServer II also supports industry-standard terminal session access to multiple Unix systems on TCP/IP networks.
Using the Extend software for Windows NT that allows easy configuration of the serial ports on an EasyServer II will enable your customers to enjoy Microsoft's multi-protocol (TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, NetBEUI) dial-up networking environment. According to Stallion, Extend is fully compatible with Windows NT serial ports, so third-party communications applications are guaranteed to function flawlessly, with modem pooling, data collection from point-of sale or plant equipment and dial-out services among its possible applications.
Easy Server II highlights
Web-based GUI for easy installation, configuration and management from any PCSupport for third-party modem pooling solutionsDemand Dial Routing gives branch offices routing and Internet access without the need for a dedicated leased lineSupports data transfer rates of up to 230Kbps, whether using external modems or ISDN terminal adaptersExtend software for Windows NT lets you easily configure the serial ports on an EasyServer II as intelligent COM ports on one or many NT serversStallion 1800 687 727