The remote access marketplace is an expansive maze of technology and terminology. You've got the boxes (eg Shiva, Cisco, Ascend, Bay Networks) and software (eg Novell and Citrix). Then you've got the remote end: the notebooks, PCs and modems. And there's also the ISDN, PSDN and cable connectivity saga. Oh, and there's the security market too, a whole other ball game.
In the simplest sense, remote access technology enables employees of the corporate and government sectors to work out of hours, out of the office, out in the field.
Sales people can be on the road, filing reports, using e-mail, checking the latest stock and pricing lists, accessing databases. Contract workers can work from home as though they were in the office; the same goes for teleworkers (employees working from home permanently). Clients of art houses can collect their jobs off a private bulletin board. Branches of a company can log in and access databases held on the head office network. Senior executives can take their work home with them, downloading what they need or working remotely. Computer support managers can monitor their network system and troubleshoot after hours and on the weekends. John the freelance journalist can file his stories and access all the mainframe resources that the full-time employees have available to them - it's the information technology age defined.
Although this appears to be a huge market, which potentially it is (about $600 million a year in Australia so far), remote access can also be a fairly narrow market in terms of profit.
Traditionally there are two types of major players in the remote access marketplace: the systems integrator making a living solely from remote access solutions, and the systems integrator who delivers remote access technology as part of the greater networking solution.
Now enters the general reseller. Distributors are pushing remote access technology through to the resellers on the street, who are trading off margins in the race to beat each other on price.
Rosser Communications, a systems integrator devoted to remote access technology, is experiencing the pressure. "It is getting more competitive, it's becoming more of a commodity and our margins are under pressure," Tim Rosser, sales manager for Rosser Communications, told ARN.
Sealcorp's national sales manager, John Stevens, agrees the number of players in the market is growing, but "still the established players have the majority of the market, a lot of players coming and going, not staying for very long".
Remote access technology is more of a "commodity" now because, he said, the technology is vastly superior to what it was. "For some products where it doesn't take an Einstein to set it up they don't need integrators."
But Stevens does not discount the importance of reseller training, saying there are a lot of resellers out there that do not know what they are doing. Sealcorp, in response to this, is providing its resellers with accreditation courses.
Systems integrators working in the market hold vendor accreditations in high esteem, and many have installed a remote access solution or two in-house, using it to demonstrate to clients.
"You hear quite a few horror stories of customers that have bought a product from a reseller that is not well qualified and they have a lot of trouble in getting it working," Rosser said. "If it is Shiva some of those people come to us and we'll get things sorted out."
Customers are like boomerangs
Typically, most remote access customers will be repeat business. You've already installed their network but somewhere down the track there will be an opportunity to extend that network to include remote access functionality.
Product marketing is generally low-key, so the real work in keeping your remote access business alive is in maintaining your client base.
So says Greg Marrott, pre-sales engineer for reseller JNA. "Remote access is a key market but we don't go knocking on doors saying 'hey, do you want remote access?' it's really part of a total solution. Most customers have been very long-term customers, so the work has been in enhancing the customer relationship."
This involves quality installation, support and maintenance of the original purchase and providing customers with the latest product information on possible extensions to the network and upgrades in software.
Systems integrator Time Link has taken the initiative in holding remote access and telecommuting seminars targeted at specific groupings such as IT and HR managers. Teaming with different vendors, Time Link creates a package to put forward and has found the seminars to be highly successful in creating sales leads.
Brands mean everything, or do they?
With a greater percentage of remote access customers coming from a technical arena, most being network administrators or managers of information systems, they've done their homework and know what they want.
More often than not resellers find the cust- omer wants a particular brand - they have used it before, or are going for products with the reliability and the reputation of "blue chip" organisations.
"Brand is one of those aspects where you often find there is a totally "blue" house - they'll only take IBM because they are under affiliations for their desktops," said Steve Tracey, services manager for Time Link.
For some customers money is no object, while others base their decision purely on price.
Price and brand name play a part, but so does the technology's suitability for the particular application. "Network technologists" are able to take the more complex Bay and Cisco type solutions to that "next level", Marrott says, but if the customer is a PC user, they want ease of application. "If you are selling to a PC user and they are setting up the dial-in system, for example, they really like the IBM DIALs (a rebadged Shiva box) because they are very easy to configure."
PC cards for bizzo's on-the-go
Olicom has released two "combo" GoCards to provide a flexible high-speed remote access solution for mobile workers.
The cards are "combo" because they integrate a 33.6Kbit/sec modem with either an Ethernet or token ring adapter.
The Ethernet model, GoCard Eth/modem 336, is priced at RRP $672 and the token ring GoCard TRN/modem 336 at RRP $1011.
According to Olicom, the dual nature of the cards means mobile workers can use the same PC card at home, in the office and on the road.
The GoCards also feature an automatic sleep mode which switches off the modem when not in use, reducing power consumption.
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ISPs - the uncrackable remote access market?
Consider the growth of Internet access and the number of Internet service providers (ISPs) popping up, and it is a potential goldmine for the sale of dial-up technology.
Not so. Look closely, and most ISPs are set up as a reseller and able to buy hardware direct from distribution.
"Where ISPs do need help is in the value adding, setting up accounting systems, that sort of thing. They really need experts in that area," said Greg Marrott, pre-sales engineer for JNA. Setting up first-time ISP systems is another area.
That's not to say resellers are not attempting to make a go of the ISP remote access tech- nology market. For example, two Sydney-based resellers, ComNet Solutions and Rosser Communications, are both seeking or dealing with ISP clients.
ComNet claims a fair number of its customers are ISPs and Rosser Communications is looking to break into the market.
"It's a very price-competitive market, it takes a bit of work and ISPs tend to buy direct from distribution so it's an area most resellers are cut out of," Tim Rosser, sales manager for Rosser Communications, said. "Because we have a good relationship with Shiva we can perhaps crack that market."
DIVA T/A debuts
Eicon Technology has added another PC Card to the DIVA family of ISDN adapters, the DIVA T/A.
The new card is a terminal/adapter, enabling the connection of laptop computers to the Internet or network at ISDN line speeds, up to 128Kbit/sec.
Targeted at telecommuters, Eicon claims the DIVA T/A will drastically cut the amount of time it takes to retrieve e-mail or files from a remote server, in comparison to using an analog modem. The Microsoft Windows Hardware Quality Lab has tested and approved the DIVA T/A to carry the "Designed for Microsoft Windows 95" logo.
The DIVA T/A is available now and priced at RRP $845.
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Shiva has come out with a tool enabling network administrators to monitor and manage their remote access system via a Web browser.
The Shiva Access Viewer operates on a Windows NT server. It compiles log information on Windows NT allowing real-time monitoring of all the Shiva servers on a system for viewing via a standard Web browser (such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer).
The network administrator is able to retrieve reports on usage patterns, problem debugging, and set up traps through Shiva Access Alert, which detects unauthorised access attempts on the system.
Shiva Access Viewer costs under $600 (RRP) and is available through Express Data, 1World Systems, and Digital Networks Australia.
Digi puts you in the frame
Digi International has announced Frame Relay and full RADIUS security support on its PortServer II terminal/communications server. According to Digi it now easily supports from one to 16 synchronous Frame Relay connections at up to 128Kbit/sec, meaning users can replace expensive leased lines with Frame Relay connections.
Configuration can be expanded from 16 to 64 ports. It is designed for applications such as retail point-of-sales, Internet service provision and access, client-to-LAN remote access and LAN-to-LAN routing for TCP/IP traffic.
The PortServer II also comes with Digi's RealPort software, which allows remote serial ports to appear and behave locally, providing greater control over attached devices.
The inclusion of RADIUS remote authentication security means the PortServer II now provides multiple levels of security, in conjunction with Password Authentication Protocol and Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol.
The PortServer II is priced at $3165 excluding tax, and is covered by a five-year warranty.
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