Working From Home

Several years ago, The ITS Connection published an article on remote control software. We thought it was time to update that discussion to reflect today's technology. Therefore...

After a long day at the office, you finally get to go home, feed the cat, eat dinner, and maybe watch some TV. You are just about to get ready for bed when you realize you forgot to make those changes to the presentation at your meeting tomorrow morning. What can you do besides drive back to work? No need for that. Just call up your office computer, make the changes, and print out the file on your printer at home so you are all ready to run out the door in the morning!

Have you ever wished you could access one of your office computers from home? Are you a "road warrior" with a laptop and a need to connect with the company network? The solution for these and other situations is a class of computer products called remote access. Remote access allows a user to connect to the office network from just about anywhere that has a computer and a phone line.

Remote access can be split up into three different areas. Remote control allows a user to take control of a computer in the office (a host PC), effectively using the keyboard and monitor on the computer at the remote end instead of the keyboard and monitor on the computer in the office. Remote network access allows users to connect to the company
network, log on, and use it just as if they were at a computer in the office, albeit with a slower network connection. The third variety of remote access is a combination of the two in which a user remotely connects to the network and runs programs on the network rather than on the remote PC, yet enjoys the increased speed of a remote control connection.

Remote Control

We recommend remote control for the majority of users. Since the host PC is only sending screen updates and keystrokes across the connection, users can work fairly quickly, even on a dialup modem connection. A remote network connection is typically only useful if you use small data files or have a high speed data connection. For instance, accessing a 20-megabyte QuickBooks data file to work on could literally take hours on a dialup modem link. By contrast, it only takes a few seconds for your office PC to send the screen images over the same modem link after loading QuickBooks and opening the data file.

Most commercially available remote access packages offer remote control and file transfer. Some also offer remote node access. Microsoft includes remote control capability in Windows XP Professional, which actually boasts improved performance over traditional remote control software. Users with Windows 95 or later at home can connect to a Windows XP Professional PC at work over the Internet, or a dialup connection.

Terminal Services

The disadvantage of remote control is that it requires the use of a PC in the office. If one person wishes to
access her office PC from home at night, this is not a problem. However, if one or more salespeople want to call in from the road, they will need a dedicated PC set up so as not to "take over" a computer that is already in use by someone else at the office during the day. This problem is alleviated by using Terminal Services technology. With a Windows 2000 Server, multiple users can connect and run programs simultaneously on one PC in the office, each viewing their own "screen." The user experience is almost as fast as if the user was sitting at a PC in the office.

This technology provides a way for users at remote locations such as branch offices, or even a firm's clients or suppliers a way to connect into the company network and access data. The same technology is also useful for inexpensive "thin clients" which leave all the processing to the central server computer.


Security is an important issue when dealing with remote access. After all, you do not want just anybody poking around in your data! Every remote access package offers some type of security, such as encryption, password protection, restricted dialup locations and callback features.

Encryption secures the connection between the remote and host PCs, preventing others from seeing your data as it is transmitted. Password protection is simply requiring the use of a password when attempting to connect to the host location, seeking to block unauthorized users. Restricting the dialup locations means that the software package checks the number from where the user is calling against a list of allowed dialup locations and only lets you connect if you are on that list. Callback capability means the host computer receives a request for a link and calls the user back at a preset number to establish that link. This would allow the host to record where the calls were originated as well as restrict the locations to which the server will call back. Most remote access packages offer one or more of these security measures.

November 2002

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