VPNs Offer SMBs More Capabilities Than Meet The Eye


Solution providers servicing the SMB market are often faced with challenges such as availability and reducing support costs. Solution providers should look no further than leveraging the capabilities of VPN technology to attack these issues head on.

While most users think of VPNs purely as a security solution, underpinnings of the technology bring added capabilities to the table. By combining VPN capabilities with remote control technology, solution providers can easily manage a client's PCs and servers. In most cases, clients already own the technology pieces necessary to build a remote management solution.

CRN Test Center engineers built a proof-of-concept network with basic remote management needs in mind. The network consisted of a white-box file server running Microsoft Windows 2000 Small Business Server (SBS), broadband Internet access via a cable modem and three desktop PCs running Windows XP Professional.

One of the first challenges solution providers face is reliably connecting to the client's site. Many broadband implementations do not provide static IP addresses, which prevents domain name assignment. Domain names and static IP addresses are critical for locating Internet-attached systems.

The Test Center used TZolkin's TZO dynamic DNS service to solve the nonstatic IP address dilemma. For less than $30 a year, the TZO service associates a domain name with a dynamically assigned IP address to make Internet-attached systems visible to Internet users.

The next piece to the remote support puzzle is setting up VPN access. The all-in-one SBS includes a complete software-based VPN server with associated setup wizards.

Once established, a properly configured VPN connection allows remote users to reach inside a network and access internal devices. That access becomes the key to the remote support equation. Test Center engineers used Microsoft's Windows 2000 Terminal Services and several Windows XP applications to provide access to both the server and desktop systems.

Terminal Services is an ideal method for remotely managing a SBS server. Installed by default in a remote administration mode, Terminal Services allows up to two remote users to create remote sessions on a server. Those sessions enable remote users to perform most any task, ranging from installing software to rebooting the server.

Beyond remotely administering the server, solution providers can reach out to desktop systems using Windows XP's two bundled solutions for remote support, Remote Desktop and Remote Assistance.

Remote Desktop enables remote users to create a session on a Windows XP system for tasks ranging from installing software to troubleshooting various software problems. Remote Assistance offers yet another support option: the ability for a remote user to control a Windows XP-based system for tasks such as training or collaborative work.

Those sites not using Windows XP can turn to products such as Microsoft's NetMeeting or Symantec's pcAnywhere for remote PC administration.