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IDC Brief: How Small Businesses Can Boost Worker Productivity with Wireless Technology. Learn how to help small businesses become more efficient & extend your reach in an increasingly competitive world.

ANALYSIS

Can Remote Access Costs Be Cut While Increasing Productivity?


Companies with growing mobile workforces can gain strategic advantage by adopting a managed services model to enable convenient-yet-secure remote access by travelers, teleworkers and day extenders.

by Lisa Phifer, Vice President, Core Competence

Today, many enterprises offer remote access to corporate resources to increase business productivity for workers on-the-go. However, as the workforce expands and needs become more diverse, administrative complexity and cost grow. To drive down costs while making access more readily available, a growing number of enterprises are now turning to browser-based managed services.

Evolution of Enterprise Remote Access
Emerging network technologies and business dynamics continue to change the remote access landscape. Enterprise globalization, growth in high-speed Internet access, and the rise of teleworking are all building demand for anytime/anywhere access to company networks. However, to realize business benefits like increased availability and productivity, companies must also address security and cost concerns.

Early enterprise remote access was limited to private dial-up by business travelers. This was workable when sessions were short and users were few, but it didn’t take long for telecommunication costs to become prohibitive. By the late nineties, many companies started leveraging the public Internet to eliminate 800# and long distance toll charges. All-you-can-eat Internet dial-up accounts had become ubiquitous and inexpensive, so it made economic sense to shift remote access onto the Internet.

Transporting private data over a public network introduced security concerns. To ensure the privacy and integrity of business data, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) based on PPTP and IPsec were deployed. VPN clients were installed on company-owned laptops, tunneling data to VPN gateways installed at the edge of the company network. VPNs quickly gained favor because they reduced costs associated with traveler remote access. However, as the workforce continued to grow, so did VPN administration costs.

With the advent of residential broadband, the number of workers requiring remote access grew significantly. By the end of 2003, 27 percent of US workers telecommuted at least one day per week. Many more work occasionally from home at nights and on weekends. For most companies, issuing a laptop with VPN software to every single employee is simply untenable. Some have tried administering VPN clients on personal home PCs with less-than-spectacular success, due to concerns about both security and cost.

Complicating matters, many mobile professionals have started using public PCs with high-speed Internet access, readily available today in many airports and cafes. But installing a VPN client on a public PC is not an option, and public PCs do not warrant the same level of trust and network access as a company-administered laptop.

Over time, it has become increasingly clear that these user communities have distinct requirements for remote access:
* Full-time teleworkers require the same computing environment, whether working at the office or from home; anything less reduces business efficiency.
* Many day extender needs can be satisfied through secure remote access to business applications and files from the worker’s own home PC.
* Travelers require dependable access from anywhere — hospitality LANs, wireless hotspots, and business partner networks — unimpeded by network topology.
* Mobile professional needs vary by job function and platform, but can range from high-speed public PCs to low-bandwidth, handheld wireless devices.

To satisfy this increasingly large and diverse workforce, a one-size-fits-all approach to remote access may not be sufficient or cost-effective.

Meeting Needs While Cutting Costs
To better satisfy business needs, many companies are seeking innovative solutions that support a wider variety of remote access environments while reducing total cost.

Browser-based remote access services offer both cost and ease-of-use advantages. Web browsers are already present on nearly every computing device, public or private, large or small. Web-based solutions use this browser and dynamically-downloaded code to avoid installing and configuring VPN client software on the worker’s device. This approach facilitates remote access from just about anywhere and can significantly reduce per-user VPN administration costs. Savings are even greater for companies that eliminate corporate laptops by leveraging existing desktops for web-based remote access.

Managed services are attractive because they free up capital, reduce on-going operational costs, and decrease the need for security expertise. In-house VPNs require capital investment in customer premises equipment and lengthy set-up, but network-based managed services do not. These savings continue after installation because in-house administration is usually more expensive than monthly managed service fees. Providers can offer managed services at lower cost by realizing economies of scale, and customers can leverage the provider’s infrastructure and staff to offload most administrative tasks.

Alternative secure access methods can often meet workforce needs without the complexity of traditional VPNs. For example, day extenders that need only infrequent access to corporate email may be satisified with an SSL-based web interface like Microsoft Outlook Web Access. Teleworkers that require convenient full-time access to the business applications and files already on their own office PC should consider a secure desktop remote access service like GoToMyPC Corporate. When traditional VPNs offer broader network access than workers actually need, alternative methods can often leverage existing IT assets to deliver a simpler, more cost-effective solution.

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