The Modern Telecommuter – By Nathanael Blevins, TNSC Network Technician

Just before the Industrial Revolution, the manufacture of goods took place in the homes of workers all over the United States. Workers were paid per unit, and goods were transported every few days to be distributed. Eventually someone realized that they could reduce the per unit cost by having all of those workers commute to a single location, and thus improve productivity. The hourly wage was introduced, and a new model of working was born.

Fast forward several decades, and our economy is increasingly being built on products that are digital, rather than physical. As a result of this, and the ability to securely transmit digital information over the internet anywhere in the world, the tools that employees need to complete their tasks are no longer bound to a physical location. This represents a profound shift in how employment is viewed, just as it did decades ago when things were moving the other direction.

With that shift, a large number of companies, technologies, and solutions have emerged for accommodating businesses who wish to telecommute. Below is an overview of the different models and approaches to this practice, along with some recommendations.

PC to PC:
One of the more common scenarios involves an employee who has a dedicated physical workstation in the office, and access to corporate data is restricted to that workstation. When the employee is traveling or at home, they connect to that workstation, viewing its desktop, and work as though they were sitting at that machine. No data is actually transferred outside of the office network, but merely viewed remotely.

This setup usually involves either a VPN tunnel between the home PC and the office network, an open port in the firewall for a direct connection, or 3rd party software, such as LogMeIn or PCAnywhere. This is a recommended method due to the restriction of data to the office network, reducing the risk of security breaches.

PC to Terminal Server:
Similar to the scenario above, PC to Terminal Server involves the employee connecting from their home PC or laptop to a server which allows multiple people to remote in at one time, accessing the same software programs and data. This is often used when employees may not have a dedicated workstation in the office, or perhaps use a laptop primarily, rather than a desktop.

This setup usually involves a VPN tunnel between the employee’s home PC or laptop and the office network, or an open port in the firewall for a direct connection to the terminal server.

This is a recommended method due to the time and cost savings of purchasing a single physical terminal server that can service the telecommuting needs of multiple employees. In addition, software need only been installed, updated, or upgraded once on the server, and all users benefit.

PC to Firewall/Network:
In this scenario, a company laptop is configured with software that allows it to connect directly to the office network via a VPN tunnel, and data is also accessed directly from the servers. Rather than viewing a desktop or server in the office, any data is actually copied over the tunnel to the remote laptop.

This setup usually involves a VPN tunnel between the remote laptop and the company’s firewall. VPN software running on the laptop makes this connection possible. This is not a recommended setup, due to the transfer of data outside the corporate network, slower performance, and complications based on the remote internet connection.

Finally, in addition to the above solutions for data, there are numerous solutions to allow remote access to office telephone switches, printers, faxes, and meetings.

Virtually all modern IP telephony systems allow users to bring office phones home, connect them to their remote network, and receive calls on their extensions.

All of the solutions above have the ability to map office printers to the remote machine, as well as printing to remote printers from office machines. Faxing is similar, as there are tools for faxing digitally, as well as receiving faxes via email.

As a final note, no article on telecommuting would be complete without addressing the new buzz-word, ‘cloud’. This term has been somewhat misunderstood due to its liberal usage in marketing materials over the last few years, and often companies end up pursuing poor solutions as a result.

Essentially, it refers to moving your office’s physical servers to a location owned and operated by a 3rd party. Rather than storing all of your data and equipment in a room within your own office building, it is stored in a dedicated facility, and accessed remotely. While this may seem like an advancement beyond the above solutions, it is really just a variation of the same.

The benefits of a cloud-based hosting plan are that the facility in which you host your data is often more well-equipped for things like failover, disaster recovery, and 24×7 access. TNSC has many hosting solutions available, and makes use of the best enterprise level equipment to ensure that our clients experience fewer problems, and much faster recovery.

TNSC is well versed in the implementation of all of the above solutions, and would be happy to consult with you based on your company’s specific needs.

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