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Volume 27, Issue 1

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Four Secure Remote Access Tips for Business Continuity Planning

Written by  Paul Andersen July 3, 2012

Business disruptions can take place at any time. Everyday interruptions, like a car breaking down or larger events such as blizzards, prevent employees from getting to their offices. Proper business continuity planning helps avoid non-productivity and revenue loss during such situations.

Addressing the business continuity needs of office workers, the most common type of employee in many organizations, is important. These employees typically work at their desks, and when they work outside of the office they are most often without remote access to corporate resources. Appliance-based remote desktop solutions enable workers to immediately, securely, and cost-effectively access their unique applications and files, allowing them to conduct business as usual, even when they can’t make it into the office.

When an unexpected event occurs, the greatest challenge is to have a BCP solution in place that enables productivity from an out-of-office location for all users. Below are four tips for creating a reliable enterprise-wide infrastructure for business continuity remote access:

1. IT intervention should not be required at the time of need, meaning the solution must support as many users as is necessary in real time, without any need to add licenses, activate licenses, call support lines, or install additional equipment.

In many organizations, remote access is configured only for workers who are mobile in nature. For these employees, being unable to get to the office due to a business continuity event is a relative non-issue; they simply use their VPN-enabled laptops to work from a suitable alternate location. In contrast, not much thought is given to the average office worker who represents between 50-80 percent of the organization.

When these workers can’t get to the office due to mundane disruptions such as car trouble or a sick child, it impacts business in the form of lost productivity and reduced ability to meet customer expectations. When these workers are unable to get to the office, due to business continuity events such as inclement weather or natural disasters, businesses may be severely impacted in the form of lost revenue.

To mitigate exposure to business continuity events, many businesses have considered expanding remote access more broadly across the organization. Unfortunately, scaling traditional VPN remote access enterprise-wide is not cost-effective. VPNs are also ineffective because of the actions required of IT in the event of business disruptions.

In terms of cost, purchasing and managing laptops for a large user base is expensive. The cost of VPN hardware and licenses to support remote access enterprise-wide is also prohibitively expensive. In terms of effectiveness, traditional VPN remote access is hampered by complexity. Because of the time and expense of deploying remote access enterprise-wide, many IT managers will postpone costs until such time as a solution is needed. This can take the form of needing to purchase more VPN hardware or licenses, needing to call vendors to activate licenses or purchasing more bandwidth – actions which may or may not be possible under business continuity circumstances and which combine to undercut the effectiveness of the solution when it is needed most.

A solution is needed that addresses the unique requirements of business continuity and addresses the shortcomings of traditional VPN remote access. One such solution is appliance-based remote desktop access. In contrast to VPNs, remote desktop solutions do not require the purchase of managed laptops for each user. Instead, workers are able to use their own devices such as home PCs, personal laptops, or even third-party devices such as public kiosks. When daily disruptions or business continuity events occur, workers simply find a computer to use, log in over a Web browser, and immediately see their office desktop.

For IT, remote desktop appliances are far simpler and far more cost-effective than traditional VPN remote access. First, there are no additional laptops to purchase, configure, and manage. Remote desktop appliances are also very scalable, requiring no more than two to four units to support an entire organization; they also have the ability to rapidly associate office desktops with user credentials in order to streamline setup of the solution. In addition, remote desktop solutions are extremely bandwidth efficient and thus require little in the way of extra capacity during business continuity events.

Most importantly, remote desktop appliances often have the ability to support burst business continuity licensing – heavily discounted licenses that are utilized automatically with no actions on the part of IT during business continuity events. In this manner, there is no additional burden for IT; during business continuity events, any number of workers seamlessly log in over remote desktops, automatically triggering the use of contingency licenses if required.

2. An intuitive end-user interface that can be used on a variety of devices without any pre-installation is essential. If the experience is not intuitive, users won’t be able to get their work done, and IT support calls will increase.

In addition to being expensive and complicated to deploy during business continuity events, traditional VPNs can also be challenging for new and occasional users. First off, the corporate-issued laptop must be in the possession of the worker; if it has been left somewhere inaccessible, the remote access plan is rendered ineffective. If workers are in possession of their laptops, they must boot an unfamiliar machine and launch a VPN client with which they have little or no experience. What’s more, the laptop may or may not have the files and applications the user needs to be productive and may or may not be set up for intuitive use of networked folders and resources.

When business disruptions occur, and workers are forced to rely on remote access, many may give up if the solution is overly complex. Workers that call the help desktop may find themselves on hold, in queue behind colleagues experiencing the exact same difficulties.

Appliance-based remote desktop solutions eliminate these challenges. Workers do not need a corporate-issued laptop; any home PC, personal laptop, or public kiosk will suffice. This alone is a major improvement because remote access for business continuity is no longer contingent on accessing one device in particular. To work remotely, all workers need is Internet access and a device with a browser; the worker navigates to a simple URL, enters their corporate credentials, and is immediately presented with their office desktop. All files and applications are exactly where workers left them, and they can be productive immediately without the need for any special training or assistance from the help desk.

3. Remote power management capabilities are crucial for remote desktop access, since users cannot be expected to leave their desktop computers on all the time.

Appliance-based remote desktop appliances often include power management capabilities such as Wake-on-LAN (WoL) which gives workers the ability to shut down their office desktops on nights and weekends and remotely power them on when needed.

During business continuity events, workers simply log into a designated URL and their desktop is powered up and presented to them after only a few moments. Because workers can remotely access their office desktops from any device, anywhere, and because office computers can be in any condition -- on or off -- the remote desktop solution for business continuity is essentially foolproof.

Only catastrophic events that physically destroy the corporate office or completely disable underlying IT infrastructure are capable of compromising the remote desktop solution for business continuity.

4. Security capabilities must include data-leakage prevention to protect data, users and corporate resources, and prevent theft or leakage of sensitive data during chaotic business continuity events.

Business continuity events do not absolve companies from maintaining security and compliance. Moreover, the chaos of business continuity events requires heightened awareness with respect to intentional as well as unintentional data leakage.

VPNs create connections between remote devices and the corporate network, in turn creating serious security risks when used for business continuity remote access. Each device connected to the corporate network brings with it the risk of attack and the risk of data leakage. During business continuity events, when a large number of users connect to the corporate network at the same time, the ability for IT to adequately monitor activity is all but impossible. Moreover, with VPNs, data is allowed to reside on the remote devices which are more likely to become lost or stolen during business continuity events.

In contrast, appliance-based remote desktop solutions are fully secure. Data never leaves the corporate network, and data is never allowed to reside on remote devices. As much remote access as is needed may be provisioned with the net security risk being no greater than if everyone had shown up for work on a regular day. To fully eliminate the potential for data leakage, many remote desktop solutions support features including redirection control, clipboard control and print control, as well as anti-spyware features including protection against screen capture and key logging.

In summary, for a remote access solution to be effective during business continuity events, it must scale to support any number of users without requiring any action on the part of IT. The solution must also be intuitive, such that any user can log in and be productive under less than ideal circumstances. Lastly, the solution must to take into account the increased need for security under business continuity conditions.

While VPNs are well suited to providing remote access on a day-to-day basis for mobile workers, they are not well adapted to supporting enterprise-wide remote access for business continuity. To meet the unique needs of remote access for business continuity, organizations should explore the advantages of appliance-based remote desktop such as scalability, cost, ease of use, ease of deployment, and security. With the right solution, based on the correct evaluation criteria, remote access for business continuity will function correctly when it is needed most – maintaining productivity and business processes while protecting revenues and the organization’s reputation.

Paul Andersen is the marketing manager at Array Networks (www.arraynetworks.com). He has more than 15 years of experience in networking, and he has served in various marketing capacities for Cisco Systems, Tasman Networks, and Sun Microsystems. Andersen holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from San Jose State University.

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