Web-Based Services Let You Bring Your Outside Office to Your Home Office
By Gregory Grabowski, PE
I recently found myself on a business trip with my laptop and realized that I needed some critical files from my office machine.
I normally replicate everything between my desktop and laptop and then onto an external hard disk drive, which I then store in a fire safe bolted to the slab of my home for disaster recovery purposes. I also always travel with an 80GB portable drive for just this purpose. I’m prepared, right? Wrong. Life being what it is, I didn’t have these particular files available. However, even though I was a thousand miles from the office I still had a way to get to my files…
Remote Access to Your Home or Office PC
Today there are technologies that enable real-time access to applications and files that reside remotely without having the application actually reside on your local machine. Together, they are loosely referred to as Remote Access thin client applications, in that they don’t take a fat amount of space or processing power on your local machine. Simply put, you can think of this type of remote access as a series of screenshots of some fat application on some remote and powerful machine (in your office, for example) that are transferred over the Internet to your own machine (the laptop in your hotel room). You point, type, and click as you normally do, and these keyboard and mouse commands are then transferred back over the Internet to the server machine and run the application remotely.
Actually, many applications run this way now, though most people aren’t aware of it. Have you ever used Outlook WebAccess? Have you filled out your timesheet over the Internet? Ever seen that little CITRIX icon on your desktop? These are thin client applications that enable this whole process.
Many of these applications also enable multiple users to access the same machine remotely, increasing collaboration, centralizing the location of critical files (accounts, designs and concepts) for backup, and enabling the use of lower cost “production” machines for your remote teams while minimizing the need for heavy duty “server” machines at the home or office.
How it Works
On my office machine, I had previously subscribed to a well know remote access system. Make sure you square this with your local IT guys first because they probably already have CITRIX licenses for this purpose. Mine didn’t, but the IT guys were fine with it.
The cost is less than $20 a month, and for me it is worth every penny. When I travel, I leave it on, with the screen password-locked. When I’m not in the office, I just access the Internet from my laptop (or once, from the Internet-enabled machine at a hotel in Asia) and access the remote access system’s web site log-in screen. After a couple of seconds, I see a screenshot of my office machine. I can print, transfer files, search, and run anything that already exists on my office machine like e-mail, spreadsheets, and word processing applications — anything I would normally do sitting down at my desk, all remotely. I can even access my office servers and transfer files from there to whatever machine I am running from remotely. There are many reputable services available offering a full range of computer remote access technologies:
Of course, “what about security?” you say. Most of these remote access services use Advanced 128-bit Encryption and Mandatory User Authentication protocols to ensure that you are who you say you are and that data transferred over the Internet is safe and secure. Ironically, the data accessed over the Internet by on of the reputable remote access services is safer than working directly form your Laptop. Consider this—if your laptop is stolen, misplaced or destroyed on a business trip, the data on that laptop is gone forever.
In addition to having access to files and applications while traveling, remote access enables the telecommuter to work from home during peak traffic times at the beginning and end of each day. A reduced “in office” time should be negotiated with your boss, of course, but the benefits are easily quantifiable.
Try It Out
Take a few minutes and try out the various services. All reputable service providers offer free trial downloads with almost full functionality. This is another of the tools you should have in your road warrior or telecommuting toolbox. The time to try this technology is now. HBM
Gregory Grabowski, a registered Professional Engineer and reserve Naval Officer, focuses his Project Management talents to design and build facilities for corporate and government clients worldwide. His professional experiences have taken him to six of the seven continents. He resides in Southern California and enjoys adventure sailing.