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Remote computing - just how many remote users are out there?

Remote computing - just how many remote users are out there?

In the United States, the remote access market has been split into three groups: the telecommuters; the "day extenders" and the mobile professionals. the market in the US is much more mature and measured than the market in Australia. The success of telecommuting has been measured by the savings in costs like office space, transport and by restricting telecommuting to task-oriented workers where productivity can be measured by the completion of the task.

In Australia, the remote computing market has never been analysed, sized and validated in the same way as in the US, although Symantec is just embarking on a three-month project to do this. In addition to looking at the structure of the market, Symantec will be looking at the needs and requirements of this group.

When Australian Reseller News asked some hardware and software manufacturers for their opinions on the remote computing market in this country, most agreed that, while there is still a long way to go, the market is slowly gathering strength. Limiting factors were identified and included developing technology, the cost of hardware and access, speed, and legislative red tape (for example, insurance).

Changes in the recent past include the lowering cost of hardware, the more reasonable access rates being offered (such as Telstra's On-Ramp 2 service) and more affordable two to four point devices rather than four to eight point. These lower cost measures make remote computing a more realistic option for small- to medium-sized businesses rather than just large corporations. Major financial institutions in particular seem to have implemented or are implementing remote access solutions.

To address the Australian remote computing market, several manufacturers have repositioned themselves and categorised their products to fit into the new structure. Remote access divisions have been set up to "pander" to the needs of this group and attempt to provide solutions. For example, where routers and modems may have once been individual divisions, these products are now lumped together as a part of a remote access division.

The role of the Internet

There was a suggestion by some companies that the Internet has slowed down the growth of the remote computing market because it offers an alternate means of communication (for example virtual private networking), while others say that this is only happening at the higher end of the market (corporations). At the same time, however, the Internet has raised the level of awareness of users through the use of e-mail and Web sites and it has become influential in information access. People are now more communications aware and literate.

The Internet has had a dramatic effect on small businesses in part because it reaches out to the global market, but also because it can enable small businesses to appear large to those on the receiving end of the communication. This camouflage can only take place effectively if the business has the means to provide access to products and services.

The small business team, therefore, needs to be efficient and possess the capacity to do whatever is required. The Internet and the opportunities it offers has resulted in operators of small businesses needing to be much more flexible in terms of working hours and adaptability to other time zones and cultures.

Who is looking over the fence?

Security is a big issue in both Internet use and accessing company files remotely. According to Symantec research in Europe and the US, the primary customer need is security, and the company has addressed this issue with its pcANYWHERE software.

Cam Wayland, marketing manager for Banksia Technology, believes that while large corporations have always been security aware, many small to medium businesses don't yet understand the issue of security and its implications. This problem, he says, has not really been addressed by the IT industry and Wayland believes the onus is on the industry to make small to medium businesses aware that security is an issue.

Global Business Solutions (GBS) has taken on remote access security as a "specialty". Brendan Faulds, technical business support manager at Global Business Solutions, believes that while the Internet has helped push the need for access to data previously unavailable, the lack of security and standards has prevented companies from implementing remote access solutions via the Internet up until now. GBS suggests that with products like Axent Technologies - Power VPN - users can now use their local ISP and dial up connection to securely access corporate information. (GBS is the Australian distributor for the OmniGuard suite of security products by Axent Technologies. It tailors its solutions to the user's requirements.)Security servicesThe types of attacks on information systems include theft, destruction or corruption of information assets, denial of service to legitimate users, and usurpation of legitimate use of information resources. Five categories of security services to address these attacks have been suggested: authentication, access control, data integrity, confidentiality, and non-repudiation (which protects against a person denying later that a communication or transaction took place as recorded).

ISDN

ISDN penetration worldwide is only beginning to take off. There is no retail market in Australia as yet - the first advertisements are only beginning to appear. With the market adoption of teleconferencing and other streaming video applications the need for ISDN should increase. According to Eicon Technology, Germany is the only country in the world where there is more than 10 per cent ISDN penetration, but once carriers like Telstra begin their marketing campaigns, the company believes that "it will take off". The cost of ISDN has always been a significant barrier to small to medium businesses but the ability to use it in a switched environment, like Telstra's On-Ramp service, will make ISDN more accessible to smaller businesses. Reseller News tried on many occasions to confirm with Telstra the details of its On-Ramp service, but in spite of several promises, no information was received.

Bearing in mind the still developing and as yet not clearly defined remote access market in Australia, Reseller News asked companies for their suggestions of reseller opportunities both now and in the future.

GBS believes that resellers should challenge their customers to update their existing remote access solutions to take advantage of the latest security products, and encourage those who are implementing a remote access solution to "think of security up front".

Banksia's Wayland suggests that resellers should be bundling products and services together to provide the complete remote access package.

Once they have done this, resellers must find a market niche they can satisfy. Lee Costin, regional product manager of Symantec, recommends that resellers focus from the first on small businesses, and branch out from there. He believes that small to medium businesses are more likely than large corporations to implement remote access because they have to think more flexibly than larger corporations in order to survive.

Alex Gostin, marketing manager Asia-Pacific for Eicon Technology, told Reseller News that the smarter resellers will probably try to act as agents for Telstra (assuming they can make contact) - they will arrange line installation, get the product, offer a web design service and provide consultancy.

Gostin, along with others, believes that resellers must search for niches.


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