Is Working Out-of-Site on Your Mind?
By Bruce Schneier
Observers are predicting a massive increase in the demand for remote LAN access, fueled by the convergence of several trends. High-speed links have become available through standardized, low-cost modems, making it easier to perform complex computer tasks via a dial-in connection. Portable computers are becoming more powerful. And more companies are downsizing, moving applications to personal computers and making LANs a significant part of their computing system.
"As the LAN becomes a central part of the information infrastructure, access to it becomes more important," said Dan Schwinn, president of networking vendor Shiva Corp. of Cambridge, Mass.
Who needs remote access? Anyone who needs to connect into the corporate network occasionally or from a variety of locations could benefit from remote access. This group includes mobile workers, traveling employees, remote office staff, and the major customers and suppliers of corporations.
The capability to connect remotely into Macintosh networks now is much more of a mainstream option because of AppleTalk Remote Access (ARA) - $199 software from Apple that is included with PowerBooks - and dial-in servers such as Shiva's LanRover/L.
Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research company, estimates that 1.5 million LAN users need to dial in to their networks from home or while traveling.
Another 25 million workers potentially could benefit from dial-in computer access, including salespeople, service representatives, transportation workers, couriers and executives. Still another 4 million workers for Fortune 1,000 companies work at remote branch offices, cut off from their companies' networks.
According to Forrester, there are just 38,000 LAN remote-access devices installed worldwide, barely scratching the surface of the potential market.
Over the next five years, marketers expect usage to explode as more and more remote computer users are brought into their companies' networks. International Data Corp., a market research company in Framingham, Mass., estimates the number of remote access devices will increase to 178,000 in 1993 and 578,000 by 1995.
How is it used? "There are two kinds of users," said Jay Batson, product manager at Cayman Systems Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. "There are companies who simply need to connect remote users into their networks, and there are companies that see remote access as a strategic tool."
Most ARA users fall into the former category. They are on the road or work away from the main corporate office but want to remain connected.
"Most of our PowerBooks are used by the oil-exploration group, by people traveling all over the world all the time; they need to connect," said Mark McNew, senior computer scientist at Conoco Inc. in Houston. Said Shiva's Schwinn: "Our entire company runs on our LAN. If you're not on the E-mail system, you don't exist."
Traveling sales representatives for ON Technology Inc., a software vendor in Cambridge, Mass., regularly dial in to the corporate network. "AppleTalk Remote Access allows me to stay up-to-date with what goes on in corporate [headquarters]," said Jeff Wiley, an area sales manager.
ON's outside sales force retrieves electronic mail, as well as current company documents, bug reports, press releases, marketing data and order information.
They also post their calendars, so inside representatives and customer support know where they are. Before ARA, the outside sales force had to make do with phone calls and weekly mailings.
"The information was just not up-to-date enough for them," said Kelly Martin, product-support manager at ON Technology. Now they are more integrated into the company.
"I used to be an island; now I feel like a suburb," Wiley said.
More than bringing its outside sales force inside the company, ARA is changing the way ON Technology does business. Now that employees can disseminate information immediately, they find they work better.
When a sales representative calls in with an account problem, he can be updated immediately. "We're more responsive to our customers," said ON's Martin.
MicroAge Computer Centers Inc. uses ARA and Shiva LanRover/L devices at its corporate campus in Tempe, Ariz. Outside sales representatives use PowerBooks and other Macs to dial in to headquarters and access databases and communicate with their inside sales partners.
"We have a lot of people in the field across the country who need access into our electronic-mail system and to get files or presentations. They can't always wait for Federal Express," said John Finnan, technical-marketing manager for Apple products at MicroAge in Phoenix.
These kinds of ARA users usually are easy to satisfy. Since remote users dial in only occasionally, a few servers can satisfy a large number of users.
Companies that see remote-access technology as part of their overall strategic planning are designing new applications around it. These sites can have very different hardware requirements.
"They need large, scalable systems, with the capability to connect dozens of users at the same time," said Cayman's Batson.
MicroAge is creating a remote connectivity demonstration network, including the Macintosh, Novell Inc.'s NetWare, Banyan Systems Inc.'s Vines, IBM Corp.'s OS/2, Unix servers, as well as an IBM 3090 mainframe. Dealers will be able to dial in to this multiservice network using ARA.
Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, an insurance company in Portsmouth, N.H., is designing a computer system for remote agents using ARA and dedicated database applications. Custom software on PowerBooks will allow agents to dial in to the corporate networks and work as if they were in their offices.
The last chapter of ARA has not been written. The current limitations of Apple's server implementation, which requires a Mac and modem for each phone line, are clearly not cost-effective, considering the high number of users expected to take advantage of remote access. Apple is said to be working on a multiline server, as are Shiva; Cayman; Centrum Communications Inc. of San Jose, Calif.; and Global Village Communication of Menlo Park, Calif.
Security issues also will remain a concern for network administrators, who generally quake at the idea of remote network access. Regardless of built-in security measures in ARA or on LANs, safety hazards are unavoidable when you expose your system to the outside.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.