When we wrote a response to this question in 2011 on the best way to work remotely, iPads and tablets were the rage. The iPad was introduced in 2010, and we had clients frequently using tablets and smartphones for business use. Fast forward to 2020 and I do not know anyone who does not own a smartphone and most professionals carry multiple mobile devices. Furthermore, with so many cloud applications available, it simpler than ever to work from anywhere, any time.
Remote access options are commonplace, yet we find many firms have a less than an ideal arrangement for these basic services.
Cloud Apps and Hosted Servers
Welcome to the future for the remote worker!
Here we explore newer technologies that reduce or eliminate local server infrastructure, meaning your users can work nearly anywhere they have an Internet connection.
In all likelihood, you’re already using cloud apps in your personal life and professional. Almost any system you access from a browser is a cloud app. With few exceptions, when it’s time to migrate a client’s mail server, we are strongly recommending Office 365 Hosted Exchange.
More and more line of business applications are moving to the cloud as well. Even document management systems like iManage offer a cloud option.
What happens when your critical line of business application does not offer a cloud migration path and you want to lower your local server footprint? Microsoft, Amazon, and more offer options to host virtual servers and virtual desktops for your users to remote into in a variety of ways. If you want full control of the hardware but don’t want the risk of keeping the servers locally, you can rent rack space in a colocation facility and accomplish the same task.
Working Remotely with Traditional Tools
Old remote work standbys that still perform marvelously
Remote Desktop is a form of remote controlling another PC or server across the network or Internet. The PC or server is traditionally in your workplace but could also be in a cloud environment. You launch an application from your personal computer, work laptop, tablet or smartphone, and in moments you are working in an environment with all of your company apps and data.
This method allows you to work on your work PC almost as if you were sitting in front of it. Or, if you have a work laptop or a significant employee base that works entirely remotely, you can harness the power of a multi-user remote desktop server.
VPN, or Virtual Private Network, describes a method of connecting to remote resources as if you were on the same internal network, and can be used to augment the security of Remote Desktop. Launch a VPN application from your remote location, and your computer will intelligently route traffic to your work network.
Two offices can be connected perpetually by hardware VPN technology. This is “on all the time,” and allows a remote office to work on resources in the main office.
Also called Remote Apps, Published Apps use the same underlying technology as Remote Desktop, but instead of remoting into a full remote desktop experience, you launch remote versions of your applications. They appear and function as though they are on the user’s desktop.
Third-Party Remote Control
There are many third-party remote-control software applications that can be used for remote access. ScreenConnect, LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and TeamViewer are relays. With relay tools, you log into the cloud and then remote control your PC from there. The PC can be hosted at work or another location. These applications install on the individual’s office computer for direct remote control. Business owners should recognize the risks of any application that is not enlisted by the business. Some of these services have corporate accounts that allow the control and logging of individual access. Remote control services purchased or controlled solely by employees lack some basic security controls and have more issues when securing and monitoring workplace PCs. It is better to offer a secure means for employees to remote in that can be monitored, managed and require security features like multi-factor authentication for accessing the accounts.
Use Case Scenarios
We have an office environment with a server that hosts line of business data and applications. We do not wish to move this data to the cloud, but we want employees to be able to work remotely from time to time. Our employees use mostly desktop computers.
In this case, using Remote Desktop with RD Gateway or a VPN would be the best option. The employees can remote into their desktop computers.
Half of our user base has laptops in docking stations. These laptop users enjoy the freedom of checking their e-mail when out of the office but would like to do more. We’re not yet ready for the cloud.
In this case, again using Remote Desktop with RD Gateway or a VPN would be the best option. The difference being we would employ a Remote Desktop Server (RDS, also call an RDP Server or Terminal Server).
We are done with having to maintain a local server. Unfortunately, we have legacy applications that are critical to our business, and there is no hosted solution for them.
This is where hosted virtual servers in Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) come into play. Both providers offer a host of tools to build dynamic servers. We would recommend using the cloud version for every program you can, and for those you can’t, you put on a server in Azure or AWS
Due to the various options, and the technical nature of the issue, remotely working connectivity options can be a little confusing. If you have any questions or would just like a simple validation of what you’re doing, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help.