Does Remote Access Matter Anymore?
Cloud, cloud, cloud! Seems like all you hear about these days is cloud! OK, you also hear about smart phones and "pads" - but where do those devices go to get their never-ending stream of apps and store much of their data? That's right: "To the cloud." Today's IT world seems to be all about data in the cloud, services in the cloud, and connecting to data and services in the cloud using a smart phone or a tablet. If we're to believe the tech press, desktops are dead, laptops are on a respirator, and the PC revolution is about to have its history written off as the "golden age of computing," something we can tell our grandchildren about as we reminisce about how fun computing was when it was new and free.
But maybe things aren't really quite that gloomy. In fact, I think you hear so much about cloud, smart phones and pad PCs because they're considered the new, hot items and more importantly, because they are high margin devices in a market that has lots of room for growth. The desktop and laptop PC markets are pretty saturated, at least in the U.S. and other so-called first-world countries - so there's not a lot of room for growth. Both of those markets have reached a point of commoditization, so the margins are thin and there's little room to innovate in those spaces. But the fact is, if you want to get work done - and I mean real, creative, profit-making work - you're probably going to need a desktop or laptop PC.
In addition, you're going to need access to the information that's stored on your intranet. In spite of all the "cloud speak," the truth is that organizations will not put all, or even most of the information that you need to get high-impact, profit making work done in the cloud. The company might not trust the cloud, might not believe that the cloud is secure, or there might be regulations that prevent the company from putting key information in the cloud. Estimates at this time vary, but most of the larger IT departments in the world estimate that at most, they expect to put between 40-60% of their data and services into the cloud. Information and services that are most critical, most sensitive, most private, and most demanding of the command and control of the firm that owns that data and services, will stay on premises.
Given that it's likely that more than half of the data and services that your firm needs to drive its success will remain on internal servers, it seems that remote access is still an important and critical issue. In fact, remote access is more important than ever - not in spite of the cloud, but in part because of it. Employees will expect anytime, anywhere from any device access to intranet resources because they will have become accustomed to the universal access enabled by the cloud-sourced data and services. This means that the services and data hosted on the intranet will need to be similarly available.
The cloud is "always on". Your users don't need to connect to a VPN in order to connect to a cloud resource. Your users don't need to connect to a corporate SSL portal to connect to a cloud resource. They don't have to think about connectivity at all. Sure, they might use different applications to connect to different cloud resources, but they don't have to think about the issue of connectivity itself. They open a browser or some line of business application and they get what they need. No muss, no fuss.
We need to provide the same connectivity for intranet resources. If we don't, users will shy away from information and services hosted on the intranet, with the end result being that the company will be at a competitive disadvantage. This means that you are going to have to provide the same "always-on" connectivity for your intranet resources.
How do you do that? Well, you've probably heard of DirectAccess. DirectAccess is all about allowing the same transparency to intranet access that your users have to the Internet cloud based services. When you enable DirectAccess for your users, all the user had to do is turn on the computer and it connects to the intranet. In fact, the user doesn't even have to log on. And if the computer is running, corporate IT can connect to the DirectAccess client and manage it. After the user logs on, the user has access to the intranet in the same way he would if he were connected directly to the corporate LAN. And as with connectivity to the cloud, the user didn't have to do anything to connect to the intranet data and services - they just work "automagically."
What's the catch? Such a critical service must be highly available. That's where UAG DirectAccess comes in. While there is DirectAccess built into the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, it doesn't provide high availability. Remember, you want the same "dial tone" access that cloud services provide, so you need HA with DirectAccess. UAG DirectAccess gives you that.
In a cloudy future, DirectAccess is the best possible remote access solution. High overhead, clunky, and inconsistent access experiences provided by VPNs and SSL VPN gateways are old school; if you want your organization to compete and win, you need the always on connectivity provided with DirectAccess.
Of course, there are some security issues (there are ALWAYS security issues). Next month, we'll talk about some of those security issues and what you can do to solve them in an always connected, always on, and always working world on cloud and on-premises solutions.
DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
MVP (Enterprise Security)