Thursday, September 13, 2007

Remote Access and APEC

Due to the Apec conference taking place in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, management suddenly felt the urge to move all of our employees of the site and have them use remote access.

As this was done at very short notice, a couple of days at the most, we were concerned that most of our users would find the task impossible. Most of them had never used our remote access facilities before. Luckily we were wrong, with only one morning of constant calls.

We tried a number of different methods with the aim of fully proving our remote access DRP.

These methods included;
  1. Complete Web based access (Web mail and notes databases via the Web)
  2. Lotus Notes clients via the Internet
  3. Lotus Notes clients on a memory sticks (Nomad)
  4. Files (from our File Servers) on the memory stick or CD-ROM
  5. Drive mapping to the domain using a VPN
  6. VPN followed by remote Desktop
  7. Offsite server access for Lotus Notes Domino
  8. Replication of files from our file servers to an offsite server and access via Web based VPN using a remote desktop and OpenOffice.

All of these methods work to some extent however some were obviously better than others.

Web based mail was considered to be the easiest method of accessing our systems and I expect that many of our employees will use this in the future now that that they've experienced it. Unfortunately, it doesn't provide file server access or access to many of the important notes client features.

Remote Desktop is easily the best, fastest and most reliable method of accessing our complete systems. The main problems we had with remote desktop were;
  • The complexity of multiple logons (Logon to Internet, then Logon to VPN, then Logon to Desktop) was overwhelming for some staff.
  • The windows drivers were a bit flaky (we need to look for an entirely web-based vpn solution).
  • Users with laptops only had no desktops to connect to.
The file replication was done using some software called double-take which was fantastic and seemed very easy to setup. The connection to the offsite server was done using Terminal Services, with OpenOffice loaded to get around any MS Office licensing issues.

In future, I expect that we will not only avail ourselves of these services but that we will also set up some in-house terminal servers for laptops to remote desktop to.

We also redirected phones (remotely) and remotely accessed voicemail with great success, though we didn't have time to setup our photocopier/faxes to internally distribute inbound faxes (something we will do in the very near future).

Overall, the exercise was very worthwhile and went a long way towards testing our disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

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