Remote is not far

Remote is not far

Several IT companies now claim it is easy enough to establish a connection linking an organisation's data centre to an infinite number of remote nodes, be they remote servers, PCs, laptops or handheld devices.

For instance, major networking companies have this year stepped up their efforts to market wireless local area network (LAN) solutions, as organisations demand more flexibility in moving around.

The natural progression from this sort of solution is the idea of "full" remote access, which refers to the ability of a company to deliver seamless access to remote or simply new locations over wireless or a combination of wireless and fixed networks.

Naturally, organisations see enormous opportunities in being able to implement these sorts of solutions as they improve the quality of information disseminated throughout an organisation while delaying, if not removing, the immediate need for new infrastructure.

According to US-based analyst The Yankee Group, over 54 per cent of all multi-site US-based SMBs (businesses with two to 99 employees) do not have a wide area network (WAN). This is supported by research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows less than 40 per cent of all Australian businesses with five to 99 employees have a WAN. Moreover, less than half of these businesses have any form of Internet access.

Therefore, the market clearly has potential. Yet as Ross Chiswell, CEO of Adelaide-based Integrity Data Systems (IDS), points out, the level of misinformation regarding wireless solutions in Australia has reached a critical stage. IDS was formed in 1996 as a specialist wireless networking provider. Essentially, the company is focussed on solutions using radio spectrum and claims to be one of the few Australian companies to understand this area of the market.

Radio technology began to gain wide acceptance as a means of establishing outdoor networking links in 1994. By 1998, the cost of equipment was headed south fast and speeds had increased dramatically.

Now, according to Chiswell, there is an abundance of vendor and channel companies all purporting to have a wireless story. It's just that these stories tend to be a bit messy at the moment.

"A number of vendors have jumped into the wireless space and are providing their resellers with hastily thrown together solutions," Chiswell said. As a result, neither have much of an idea. He cited a recent incident where IDS was called in to replace an ousted integrator that had been given the wrong equipment by the vendor.

Part of the problem, he said, is that wireless networking carries a certain degree of complexity which is not being properly recognised or respected. For example, there needs to be an understanding of how radio protocols affect data transmission. There are also several issues relating to capacity for wireless and radio cell design, amongst other things.

"No matter how good a radio network design is, if you don't get it exactly right you'll make mistakes," Chiswell said. "The reason why potential problems arise is because the vendors don't understand radio technology enough to train resellers."

As an example, The Australian Communications Authority requires that any antennae using free spectrum airwaves emit frequencies of no more than 4 watts. Yet in the last year, it has been informed of a number of sites where this has been exceeded by as much as 64 watts. The ACA can issue fines of up to $200,000 for these sorts of breaches.

"Usually resellers simply aren't aware of what they need to do," Chiswell said. So much for claims that the brave new world of wireless remote access had arrived.

Currently Chiswell is working with a number of partners to establish a wireless spectrum user association in Australia which is expected to be in operation some time next year.

One of the main drivers in the global remote access industry is the widespread integration of wireless capabilities into information devices such as laptops and PDAs. Eventually this is expected to inspire the creation of public wireless terminals in busy hubs such as airports.

But while the hype over wireless continues to build, the reality of remote access in Australia now is that the analog modem will continue to occupy centre stage for some years to come.

The importance of remote Internet access via the copper wire cannot be underestimated, according to Gartner. It predicts that over 55 per cent of access to the corporate network will still be via analog modem for the next five years, despite the emergence of cable and DSL modems.

David Stewart, industry veteran and head of Australia's largest modem manufacturer Netcomm, agrees. "There's a lot of talk about clever wireless solutions and so on, but you will find that the majority of remote solutions still and will continue to depend on the basic analog modem, even though it's not very sexy anymore."

Netcomm is in the process of developing its Digital Subscriber Line service for the Australian market. DSL is a high-speed technology designed to run over the copper network but at infinitely higher speeds than a 56Kbps modem.

Several Australian carriers have embraced the technology, which is being touted as a major pain reliever for companies looking to create remote links quickly and securely. But it will be a while yet before resellers see any significant opportunities, Stewart admits.

"The analog modem remains the mainstay of the remote access business," said Peter Geale, head of Brisbane-based communications manufacturer Stallion.

According to Geale, people want to be able to dial in immediately to the network and access whatever they need to from the corporate data centre and the Internet remains one of the best ways for doing this. "Organisations are beginning to realise what a simple value proposition Internet-based remote access is," Geale said. "There is a dramatic boost to overhead management with Internet solutions because of the need for fixed infrastructure is removed."

Stallion is one of Australia's largest communications equipment manufacturers , with distributors in 35 different countries. Reflecting the momentum behind remote access technology in Australia, Stallion was last year awarded a $2.5 million R&D grant from the Federal Government.

Ironically for a remote access company, Stallion is now owned by the Commonwealth Bank after that bank's acquisition of Colonial First State. The desire of large organisations such as banks to deliver reliable access to their services throughout Australia has been well documented.

According to Geoff Johnson, telecommunications and networking analyst with the Gartner Group Asia Pacific, resellers have a "golden opportunity" to get involved with the remote access market from the SME level right up to blue chip corporates.

One of the reasons remote access has become the "big ticket" in the corporate space is the fact that security over the public network carried a big question mark over it until quite recently. "Only in the last 18 months has it been safe for organisations to access their corporate data using the public network," Johnson said, adding that the fact that we are using the Internet as part of the remote access solution (RAS) dial-up configuration is a great leap forward.

Large services companies such as IBM and EDS are making waves in this area, increasing competition while also raising awareness of the need for managed services. Increasingly, the market is heading in this direction as organisations realise there is too much at stake to trust "do-it-yourself" solutions.

Gartner predicts that by 2003, 70 per cent of corporates will buy their solutions as managed services.

A recent report on VPNs by Forrester Research urged organisations to be careful when buying so-called "do-it-yourself" solutions, citing a Pandora's box of technical headaches reported from companies of varying size. These include: broken extranet functionality, high cost and what it termed as "scary complexity".

One of the challenges for resellers, Johnson believes, will be figuring out where they fit into the value chain.

For instance, the door is opening for the channel to sell directly to service providers themselves, although he warns "these guys are very big and resellers will have to be prepared to see their markets polarise".

One of the most important areas for resellers to familiarise themselves with in the short term is the tools facilitating remote access that are springing up in greater and greater abundance.

Steve Burke, general manager of wholly IBM owned enterprise software company Tivoli, said many of his company's resellers are moving quickly into the remote space. Tivoli has a number of new remote access solutions and recently provided the "adhesive" for 7500 PCs and 600 servers over several operating systems as part of IBM's massive Sydney Olympic Games commitment.

"We are taking our traditional management solutions and applying them to the distributed environments of our clients," Burke said.

He added there was already evidence of Tivoli's resellers developing relationships with carriers and developing their expertise as managed service providers.

"Reflecting this trend, I'm seeing many formerly traditional resellers adding new planks to their businesses, with many traditional dealers already taking the tools as part of their solutions offerings."

Citrix, a former champion of the now tired thin versus fat client debate, has come to market with a number of new products this year aimed at enabling remote clients to access corporate data over the Internet.

The company has developed a number of clever technologies targeting, amongst other things, what the company believes will be a massive movement towards wireless e-commerce.

"We see this market being driven by the mobile workforce but with a major push from e-commerce," said Radu Macovei, product marketing manager for Citrix Asia Pacific. In September, Citrix released the latest version of its NFuse Internet mirroring technology which allows the generation of a personalised representation of a Web site to be sent to basic devices including old DOS computers.

The potential for growth in the Australian remote access market is huge, however, resellers need to understand that while organisations are looking to spread themselves wide, they don't want to be spread too thin either.been resolved to a certain extent, there remains a significant valley separating companies from many of their desired results, however remote. David Binning reportsHow to set up a radio link between two sites1) Establish the type and level of transactions so as to gauge the approximate bandwidth requirement.

2) Find a company that can perform a site survey and work out how high antennae need to be to ensure radio line of site.

3) Perform a link budget. This involves conducting a calculation of; the output power of the device; loss incurred in the cable; the gain given by the antennae and the "free space loss" that happens when radio signal propagates through the air - free space loss.

4) Antennae at the other end - calculate output power at the antennae is no higher than 4 watts.

5) Ensure that the link has a fade margin of more than 20 DB (the strength of the radio signal).

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