Remote Access has always been popular with business owners who like to call in
and check things out at the shop, but has now become a critical element in
Sales Force Automation, allowing sales people
to have full access to the company's computers from the field.
Remote access operates in two different ways: Remote Control, and Network Access. Which one is right for you depends on a lot of factors that have to be carefully considered.
With Remote Control, you connect to a computer by modem or network and literally take it over. The computer you are working at just becomes a screen and keyboard extension for the one you have called into.
With Network Access, your computer becomes just another citizen on the network. You can access the servers just as if you were on the local network except response is slower. Sometimes much, much slower. This network access can be by telephone line and modem, or by Internet through a router.
Because network access over phone lines can be so slow (because all the network traffic to and from your computer goes through the line) remote control (where only keyboard and screen go through the line) has been much more common.
The problem with remote control is you are taking over a computer at the office, so that computer must be available and not in use. If there are a lot of people calling in, there must be a lot of computers. For this reason, rack mount devices are available into which can be plugged a bunch of "single board" computers. Sometimes two computers per board. These computers must be able to handle the programs to be run, but don't need hard disks, floppy disks, monitors or keyboards. Such a device is called a RAS (Remote Access Server).
Several other ways to handle this situation are described in our article on Thin Clients.
Of course for Unix systems supporting text terminals this is all no problem at all. Just hook a modem to your terminal or PC, and call into the modem bank attached to the host computer. Performance nearly like being there, and no additional computers required.
Normal phone connections between the remote computer and a modem at the office can be quite secure, if the passwords are good. When more is needed, the office computer can call back to a set phone number. The remote computer calls in, gives a login name and hangs up. The office computer looks up the login name and calls the appropriate phone number. The remote computer answers the phone and provides a password to finish the connection.
Connections over the Internet involve all the complex security considerations any other kind of Internet service requires.
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