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Remote Management

Network and system administrators love having the ability to manage devices from home, their office, and basically any other place besides the server room or computer center.

Remote control software is very useful, and the number of available solutions is growing dramatically. Traditional remote control programs (pcAnywhere and VNC) were initially designed for private dial-up. They rely on the privacy of private dial and can be pretty slow. New services (uRoam, ExpertCity, GoToMyPC) that were designed for use over the Internet are much faster. Issues you should consider when looking at remote management solutions include:

  • Firewall and NAT transparency

  • A requirement for use of private dial-up

  • Client software and hardware platform compatibility

  • Performance

  • Authentication

  • Confidentiality

  • Software administration

  • Enterprise-level monitoring and logging

Remote management solution security is very important. By the very nature of remote management, its users have a high level of permissions and access. If a malicious user gained access to your remote control application, there is no telling what she might try to do. Using remote-control software over a VPN removes most of the security issues to which remote management solutions are prone.

What remote management software is right for you? To decide, investigate such products' installation, configuration options, user management, and file distribution. Most commercial applications provide these features, but they all implement them very differently. Symantec's pcAnywhere is the most well-known and commonly used application. It provides excellent features and functionality, including network-based installations. Unfortunately, many users succumb to the temptation and connect pcAnywhere to their office PC over private dial-up—opening an insecure back door into the corporate network!

If you have a multiplatform user environment, you will find it difficult to locate applications that support anything other than Windows. AT&T's VNC (more on this shortly) provides support for all platforms.

Another feature you might want to consider is user management. Managing users is key because you do not want another database of user IDs and passwords to manage. You can find applications that tie in to Windows NT domains for authentication."

If you just need simple remote GUI access and not all the bells and whistles of commercial applications, I recommend using AT&T's freeware VNC (Virtual Network Computing) application. It provides support for all platforms, including Solaris, Apple, and Palm.

You can use VNC over a VPN connection, but you also can easily tunnel it through an SSH connection. This gives you a powerful, but free, remote management solution. I would not use VNC unless it was over a VPN or SSH tunnel. Several vulnerabilities have been found in the server component that enable an outside user to take control of the system.

If you are willing to pay for an easy-to-use, Internet-based solution, companies such as uRoam and GoToMyPC offer remote control functionality with multilevel authentication and encryption.

Although many of these products were specifically designed for remote administration, they can easily be used as a simple remote access solution. If your users' remote access needs can all be solved by giving them access to their work system, one of these solutions might be your best remote access option. This solution is only viable, though, if:

  • The user has a dedicated office PC.

  • Network performance is satisfactory.

  • The solution is secure.

  • The enterprise can control use.

For More Information...

You'll find a list of articles on remote management at http://researchcenter.zdnet.com/data/rlist?t=soft_10_10_22.

Two sites you might want to check out are pcAnywhere and VNC.

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