Being able to securely access your business files and documents from anywhere is now just as important as being able to receive your email from anywhere. In today’s world, business – quite literally – moves at the speed of light. Many times, you need to have instant access to ALL of your files and documents, not just the few you saved on that thumb drive or copied to your synced folder.
Whether you are wanting to get a little work done over the weekend, whether you’re on travel, or whether you're simply looking for a way to telework on a regular basis, there are many options available.
As always, some of these solutions are better than others – especially depending upon your company's specific needs. Below we'll work through the three main types of remote access, along with some of the best tools within each category.
Remote access software (easy to set up)
These are programs designed to be used for access to a single PC remotely. They can usually be set up and configured by the end user, but the centralized control can be limited.
- LogMeIn: LogMeIn is the name most people think of when the topic of remote-controlling your desktop comes up. Its setup is extremely simple, and can usually be configured without the need for any changes in the corporate firewall. LogMeIn started with the intent of letting consumers connect to their home PC from anywhere, but has evolved into a robust offering with enterprise solutions that are highly manageable.
- GoToMyPC: Functionally, this offering from Citrix is nearly identical to LogMeIn in terms of both setup and usability. As with LogMeIn, there is both a consumer and a more robust enterprise version for an increased cost.
- Splashtop: Splashtop is focused on getting remote access to your desktop computer from mobile devices, though it can be used in the same way as the two previous solutions. Its controls are limited, but this lends to its extremely easy-to-setup/easy-to-use reputation.
- Google Chrome: A couple of years ago, Chrome added the ability to remote control your entire computer just by having their browser installed. This is convenient for many since Chrome is now the most popular browser in the world, and is likely already installed on your computer. From a corporate standpoint, this isn’t always a great choice because it’s hard to control access unless you are using a corporate Google Apps account for authentication.
Virtual Private Networks (harder to set up)
These give you access in the form of making the computer you are using a part of the corporate network. They will allow you to map drives just as if your computer was in the office. While it’s a more seamless environment to work in than the Remote Access Software listed above, it can have its own security risks as you are potentially allowing hardware not under enterprise control to act as if it’s part of your enterprise network.
- Windows Routing and Remote Access (RRAS): For enterprises, the fact that this comes built-in with Windows Server is a big plus. Setup should be easy for any level IT administrator.
- SonicWALL VPN: Firewall-based VPNs are an industry favorite because, much like Windows Server, you SHOULD already have a firewall. Tools such as SonicWALL’s SSL-VPN make configuration a snap and will allow secured access to any of your company’s resources. Also, like Windows RRAS, most IT folks should be able to set one of these up without issue.
- OpenVPN: This has one major benefit over the other solutions…it’s completely free. The setup can be a bit tougher than the other two VPN solutions, but once it’s up and running, administration is easy.
Enterprise remote desktop (more difficult to set up, easy to use)
These are enterprise-level remote access solutions that should scale well whether your business has 3 users or 25,000. The enterprise-level tools allow you to administer and control every facet of what users can access on the network. It also gives a completely seamless user experience no matter the device you are connecting from (your home PC, your iPad, or that library or hotel media PC will all look and feel almost identical).
While the setup for these technologies can be more difficult than the above solutions, you will immediately see the benefit. These are the technologies used in DaaS (desktop as a service) or hosted desktop solutions, so if the cost of installing and maintaining this infrastructure yourself seems overwhelming, you can usually pay a monthly fee per user to a hosting provider and let someone with an already robust infrastructure deal with these things for you.
- Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS): You probably know this better by its former name, Terminal Server. This is an extremely robust remote working environment that allows you to either connect to a shared server dedicated to remote access, or even directly to your work computer. When used in conjunction with the Remote Gateway services (part of the RDS suite), it allows for access to your corporate data from ANY computer, so long as you have the website address.
- Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop: Citrix is the market leader in this sector, and while most of the basic functions overlap with Windows RDS (it actually requires RDS to be installed), it adds a layer or performance, security, and administration that cannot be rivaled. Utilizing the HDX protocol, even multimedia (streaming audio, video) and highly graphical applications (photo editing and CAD) can be easily used even over mediocre internet connections.
I hope this has given you some insight into the different technologies available for accessing your corporate data anytime, from anywhere in the world. It is a necessity in today’s global economy that you have all of your resources available to you at a moment’s notice.