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Remote office worker solutions

I have a client (a very finicky one) who is looking for a remote solution for a home-based employee. We have tried LogMeIn and GoToMyPC so far. He used both for 6 months or so and eventually complains that they are not fast enough. I've explained the nuances of remote computing (it isn't ever going to be the same as if you're physically sitting in front of the PC you are using) but he thinks there must be a better solution.

To that end, he has now approached me with 2 solutions he'd like me to look into:

1- Windows remote desktop hosting (by a company called OurInternet.us) which has this to say about their service:
Our fully managed Windows remote desktop hosting solutions are in a virtual dedicated "Cloud Hosted Environment" that offers clients a secure, managed, and maintained IT Infrastructure. Our virtual desktop hosting allows you and your colleagues to simultaneously work in a high-speed network environment without ever having to take on the cost of purchasing or maintaining servers, expensive networking equipment, software licensing and backup systems.
I have a lot of concerns about this solution and I'm sure you can imagine why.

and/or

2- Setting up a Small Biz Server and using that for remote access

In my opinion he is looking for something that is currently unattainable... a remote access experience that is as quick and responsive as if he is at the actual PC. I contend that no matter what service, software, etc. you use for remote access, you will never get that experience due to the fact that you must go through the Internet and deal with latency and other issues.

I'm looking for thoughts on this. First off, am I correct in telling him that what he is looking for doesn't really exist? If not, what is the best option?

Does anyone know of a service/solution that would provide a more responsive experience other than LMI or GoToMyPC?
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coptechs
Asked:
coptechs
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2 Solutions
 
Aaron TomoskyTechnology ConsultantCommented:
Give him a laptop with VPN setup? What company resources does he actually need to get to?
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
The home-based employee basically uses Quickbooks, Outlook and other Office applications. She also needs to be able to scan and print to/from the remote site.

I don't have much experience with VPN's, will that give him faster speeds/response time while working remotely? If so, hardware or software VPN?
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Aaron TomoskyTechnology ConsultantCommented:
A VPN basically puts your computer at home on the office network. So if you brought the laptop into the office an plugged it into the LAN, that's exactly how it works. The computer itself is still superfast because you are working on your local computer, not a remote desktop.
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
But aren't you still subject to Internet traffic/latency issues? I realize the VPN creates a secure tunnel through the Internet, but does that eliminate Internet related issues that services like LogMeIn and GoToMyPC would be subject to?
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Aaron TomoskyTechnology ConsultantCommented:
I'm suggesting that the only way to have a snappy PC at home is to actualy run your apps at home. Don't use VPN for logmein or vnc or remote desktop at all for this user. Actually install QuickBooks and stuff on the laptop they take home.
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oneitnzCommented:
Hi Coptechs
I specialize in Remote Desktop Servers like the company in Option 1 and I have to agree that it is a great solution however the cost could way down the benefits.

If your customer doesn't have a Server as yet then it could be a good option to take however if they are only talking about having 1 user remote then why not just setup a port forward on the Firewall at the office pointing to a Spare PC that the Home user can connect to using Microsoft RDP.

No one will be able to use this PC when they are connected but it will be much faster than Logmein.
Also Printing should be fine but Scanning will take some work.

Regards
Brett
One IT
www.oneit.co.nz
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
I'm suggesting that the only way to have a snappy PC at home is to actualy run your apps at home. Don't use VPN for logmein or vnc or remote desktop at all for this user. Actually install QuickBooks and stuff on the laptop they take home.
This really won't work because they run QB Enterprise and other users in the office need to be on QB simultaneously.

...why not just setup a port forward on the Firewall at the office pointing to a Spare PC that the Home user can connect to using Microsoft RDP.
Currently they don't have a spare computer, however, I'm sure that if I can guarantee him that this would be the best/fastest solution, he'd make the small investment and purchase one. I suppose I could also use VNC in lieu of RDP? What about security though? Would we need a VPN?
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Sorry, but I disagree with aarontomosky.  VPNs used to access files directly from the home PC are dangerous.  IF the connection drops corruption could occur and especially if you're using QuickBooks, you DO NOT want corruption.

HOWEVER, I'm wondering why you haven't tried a VPN to connect to the office and then use Remote Desktop to connect to the PC in the office?  Nothing is faster in my experience than RDP (LogMeIn/GoToMyPC/PCAnywhere/VNC/all otehrs I've tried) have horrible latency issues.  But I'm responding to this question on an RDP session from my home 30 miles from my office and the performance is great - at least in my opinion - and I've connected between the two sites via VPN.

There may need to be a combination/balance... meaning if the user SCANS things then the scanned documents may be scanned directly on the user's PC but saved over the VPN to the office server... while using QuickBooks would be done by running it on the remote computer so if the VPN drops, it's only the remote connection that breaks and they can easily resume where they left off with little chance of corruption.
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oneitnzCommented:
Don't use VNC its slow and choppy RDP is the best way and if the Computer you connect to and the Computer you connect from are both Windows 7 you'll get a much better experience.

VPN is definitely not what you want in this situation.

Why not just test with a machine that they already have and just tell the user they can't use it while your testing.
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Aaron TomoskyTechnology ConsultantCommented:
Why does having qb enterprise stop you from having another computer? Think of it like this:
Get a laptop at the office. Install whatever the user would need if they were sitting there. This works right? Now take that laptop to the users house and run a VPN. It will keep working just like if the user was at the office.

If a spare PC at the office for the user to rdp into is an option than so is this as it's functionally the exact same process.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
> I'm suggesting that the only way to have a snappy PC at home is to actualy run your apps at home.
NO - I realize You posted this before I posted my comment, but I want to be clear here - this will not be snappy... when I work on documents DIRECTLY over the VPN (word, excel for example), it's always SLOW because on a LAN you connection is at least 100 Mbit... on a VPN you're going over two ISPs - yours and the home users and then upload bandwidth is almost always slower - MUCH slower than download and so the upload could be as slow as 1 Mbit or less - 1/100 the speed of the LAN - using RDP, RDP uses only 30-60 Kbit and yet is very responsive... and the files being accessed are all on the remote systems which have high speed connections.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
> ...why not just setup a port forward on the Firewall at the office pointing
> to a Spare PC that the Home user can connect to using Microsoft RDP.

This is NOT secure - I do not recommend it.
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oneitnzCommented:
Leew give me one good reason.
RDP traffic is encrypted there is no way to sniff the password so long as the user has a strong password it won't be hacked.
VPN are only protected by passwords in most cases anyway so what is the difference.
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
Don't use VNC its slow and choppy RDP is the best way and if the Computer you connect to and the Computer you connect from are both Windows 7 you'll get a much better experience.

VPN is definitely not what you want in this situation.

Why not just test with a machine that they already have and just tell the user they can't use it while your testing.
Interestingly we currently have a Windows Home Server setup there which has remote access capability into any of the office machines. I assume that this would be the same as what you are suggesting oneitnz? It uses the MS RDP protocol. My only concern is the security of this option? Without using a VPN, isn't all their data just running unprotected through the Internet?

Why does having qb enterprise stop you from having another computer? Think of it like this:
Get a laptop at the office. Install whatever the user would need if they were sitting there. This works right? Now take that laptop to the users house and run a VPN. It will keep working just like if the user was at the office.
I have to agree with leew here on the potential for data corruption, can't risk that.
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oneitnzCommented:
Hi Coptechs
I'm not really familiar with Windows Home Server but if what your saying is it has a Web Interface that you can login to and then access the computers from then that is exactly what you need.

This would be the best option for you and is what I would setup if you installed a SBS server using Remote Web Workplace.

Generally the connection to the Web Interface is performed over HTTPS which is encrypted and when they login they have the option to connect to a computer on the LAN.

If Home Server does the same thing then you have your answer.
Just looked through this article and it looks like it definitely does what you need.
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/14123/setup-remote-access-in-windows-home-server/
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Aaron TomoskyTechnology ConsultantCommented:
Ok I'll admit I'm no QuickBooks expert and see that the potential for corruption makes this a bad idea.

In that case I'll side with rdp or VPN+rdp. When there is only one rdp host I usually don't bother with VPN unless I'm doin a cert. Easier just to port forward something non standard.

So what is the user connecting to with logmein currently? Wouldn't that be the same computer they would rdp into? Unless it's a home version it seems like the easiest option.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
It's a security best practice.  MINIMIZE the open ports.  RDP would only work for RDP - it wouldn't allow file transfers as a VPN would.  VPN Encryption is usually STRONGER encryption.
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aleghartCommented:
I'm with leew on not having any ports open to desktop computers.  At the very least, you have SBS 2008 and WHS 2003 and Server 2008 that can function as RDP Gateways.

You must authenticate to the TS Gateway before attempting authentication to the machine.  Very different than an open port where anybody can hit it with RDP traffic (or any traffic on that port).

Quickbooks Enterprise is a no-go over VPN.  The chatter is non-stop, and you'll barely get the file open...then it slows to a crawl.  Even small (<10MB) QB files over a DSL connection feel like the dial-up modem days of AOL.

Remote Desktop is much faster than any other remote access/control out there.  I've used LogMeIn, VNC (many flavors), and currently use GoToAssistExpress for tech support.  All slow compared to straight RDP or RDP via TS Gateway.

But, scanning directly to a remote computer isn't easy.  I've never had it a priority.  Remote users could always scan to JPEG or PDF, then copy/paste the files to the remote session.

Local printing is OK, but sometimes glitchy.  I have remote workers save to PDF, then copy/paste or direct open the PDF locally and print through their own OS.

The web interface on SBS and WHS is not great...it only works in Internet Explorer for Windows.  Better to get TS Gateway sorted out and just use a standard RDP client.

QB Ent. works OK over RDP.  Sounds will even pipe through with only a slight delay...if you really like that "boop" sound when you post a transaction.  Reports are printed to a PDF printer device (DocuDesk, Aloaha)...they're usually emailed.  Hard copy can be made by copy/paste to local desktop, then print locally.  Haven't worked with remote printing checks.  Remote printing big reports to a network printer works just fine...but you're not there to pick it up, so don't print sensitive info on a printer that's out in the open.
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
Thank you all so much for the input. I've decided to give the Windows Home Server remote access route a try. I just have to make sure I get the remote printing and scanning worked out for them.
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oneitnzCommented:
Hi Coptechs

Just had a company email about scanning to the remote computer using this software.
http://www.scan-monitor.com/index.php

I have not used this software before but I have used this one on Terminal Servers I presume it will work in this case too.
http://www.remote-scan.com

Regards
Brett
www.oneit.co.nz
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coptechsAuthor Commented:
Thanks again Brett. I'll take a look at those.
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