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Never out of touch


By Susan Honig and Wayne Spivak

No discussion of remote communications can begin without examining modems and speed as they relate to computer-to-computer communications. When sitting at your desk and communicating with your local area network (LAN), odds are that you are communicating at either 10 megabits per second (mbps) or 100 mbps. When you dial up the remote access server (RAS), you will be using a modem, which may work at one of the following speeds: 14,400 bits per second (bps)(14.4K); 28,800bps (28.8K), 33,600 bps (33.6K), 56,000 bps (56K), 64,000 bps (64K), 128,000 bps (128K), or at 1.544 mbps. The 14.4K, 28.8K, 33.6K and now 56K are standard modem speeds; 64K and 128K are attainable with the use of Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) telephone lines and modems. The speed of a T1 telephone line is 1,544 mbps.

To better understand speed, look at

the Ethernet connection to your LAN. Sending a file from your computer to the server may take one minute using a 10 mbps LAN. But, if you were to send a file from your computer to a host computer through a T1 line, in a utopian environment, that file would take 6.44 times longer to be transmitted. This means that any connection using remote access (RA) will be slower than a connection on premises. The degree of slowness is in direct proportion to the speed at which you can communicate to your RAS server. We currently use 28.8K modems to communicate to the Internet. Our best speed has never surpassed 24.6 kbps. Why? Because, many times, telephone calls go through more than one telephone switch, called a hop. Hops cause the data flow rate to decrease.

Remote Access (RA)

RA is the ability to dial into your LAN from a remote location, whether down the street or across an ocean. The remote user can be another LAN, giving access to all the users from a remote office or just a notebook computer at a customer site or in a hotel room.

After dialing the appropriate telephone number to a modem bank at the office or the Internet, you provide your log-in name and password. Your computer or network is now another member of the host LAN. As a member of the LAN, you can access the resources of the LAN, based upon the security and permissions applicable to your log-in name.

Once the province of large information technology (IT) departments, RA is now positioned for the small to mid-size company. It is no longer necessary to have a full time computer department to benefit from this technology.

Access to the Accounting System. You are the CFO sitting at the board of directors meeting located at an outside facility. A question arises that needs an immediate answer. You dial into the company's RA, the modem bank, and log into the system. The entire accounting system is now at your disposal. Make your query and find the answer. You are no longer confined to what exists in-house or subjected to the old line, "I'll get back to you on that issue." The only difference between using an RA and being on premises is the speed at which you will communicate with the appropriate resources on the host LAN.

Can You Run an RA on Your
Network? Odds are, your network will support an RA. The major PC based servers--Novell Netware, Windows NT, and UNIX based systems all support RAs. Being able to access your system with the least amount of trouble will depend on the server operating system, and the types of communication protocols used. Windows 95 makes life easier by supporting all three major protocols, IPX (Netware), IP (UNIX and NT), and NetBEUI (NT). Based on your RA needs, you will use a single modem, several modems, or banks of modems. Commercial RAs make installation much easier.

When it comes to marketing and packaging their programs, each operating system handles RA differently. Depending on your operating system, you may have the software components to set up an RA. Windows NT comes with the software. Novell Netware requires you to purchase NetWare Connect at a minimum of $395 for two ports. And depending on which version of UNIX you use will determine whether you have everything you need.

Security. All networks, whether accessible on a remote basis or not, have security risks. RA and remote control (RC) products provide several different types of security protocols. Which protocol you should use is a complex issue. Many large organizations deny modems to individual workstations. One company's security policy stipulates that the employee who permits his/her workstation to either connect to another computer or let another connect to it via a modem will be summarily discharged. Security breaches can come from both internal and external sources; every computer system requires a proper security audit.

Remote Control

RC provides full access to a specific computer, as opposed to a network. This host computer is then remotely controlled. All resources normally available to the host computer now become available to the remote user. When RC products are in use, the user of the host computer is essentially locked out of the machine.

RC works well, but the host computer must be on and the host RC software running for a connection to be made. Don't forget to turn the modem on! However, the host computer need not be left logged onto the network for it to be used. As a remote computer user, you can still access the resources directly connected to the host computer. This option, while available to users of Windows and DOS based computers, is typically used on networks that are either Windows based, but not Windows NT--or DOS based, but not Novell Netware. These products do not work on UNIX based systems.

Some of the more popular software packages for RC include--

* PC Anywhere by Symantec (http://www.symantec.com)--$140

* Laplink by Traveling Software (http://www.travsoft.com)--$149

* Co-Session by Triton Technologies

* Carbon Copy by Microcom, Inc. (http://www.microcom.com)--$140

Security. Remote users, upon logging onto the network, will only be able to access those resources that your log-in permits. This provides some added elements of security for small peer-to-peer networks.

RC products use not only the network security systems, but their own security passwords. These protocols are not as demanding as Network RA security precautions, but do aid in rejecting the nuisance novice hacker, or the wrong number. All RC software packages come with some form of built-in security.

Hardware and Software

A modem is necessary for computer-to-computer communications. The faster the modem, the more costly. A modem that a few years ago sold for $1,400 is now only $50. A 14.4K modem, the state of the art a few years ago, is today considered obsolete.

You have to decide how many separate communication sessions you need or want to support at any given time--one modem supports one session. If you have a field sales force numbering 25, you have to determine whether you need 25 modems, 5 modems, or 1 modem. You can purchase a single modem or a device made up of multiple modems. Multimodem devices normally permit the addition of more modems later.

The requirements for modems differ for RA and RC. For RA, multiple modems can be attached to a single RA. However, an RC solution means one modem per computer.

RA. With RA, the choice of software is platform dependent, i.e., the software you purchase is based entirely on the operating system. Software purchased for an NT server cannot be used on a Novell server.

RA generally permits almost any communication package to log onto the RA server, thus making specific programs for different packages unnecessary. Today, all operating systems come with some type of communication package, e.g., Win95-Dial-Up Networking or Hyper Terminal.

Hardware is almost entirely platform independent. Modems, COM port multipliers, and stand-alone RAs will work with almost all operating systems. However, you should check the documentation before making a purchase. Sometimes all that is needed is a software patch or program. Programs such as Radia Server, although expensive, enable you to link total hardware solutions to your network.

As noted previously, Windows NT comes packaged with its RA software. Configuration takes only a few
minutes for an experienced network administrator.

Some of the options permitted with NT RA are limiting who has dial-up access, whether the individual must call from a specific phone number, or what are the dial-back options. Dial-back options let the company assume the bulk of the telephone call charges.

Novell's Netware Connect is an add-on package. Features include server console management tools, remote security, sharing of modems, and communication lines for dial-in and dial-out.

Both Windows NT and Novell's Netware Connect allow access to the Internet, should the host network already be connected. This permits you, the dial-in user, to send Internet e-mail, surf the Web, and use other net packages. Use of the Internet would be based on the security precaution(s) in place at the corporate site. Remember, the dial-in user appears just as another user on the network.

RC. RC requires the same program be loaded on the host computer as the remote computer. Most software packages sell a license for one host and one remote workstation. They also usually offer a network license for multiple workstations.

Built in communication programs, e.g., Terminal in Windows 3.1x, will not work properly from the remote to the host computer. It requires that each computer have a specific licensed copy of the software.

General Applications and Benefits

Among the general benefits of telecommuting using RA or RC are cost and time savings related to real estate, downtime, and productivity.

Real Estate. A major benefit to employers is the potential reduced office space needs for those working away from the office. With the exception of reimbursements for phone lines and some office equipment--and most office equipment is now located directly in or attached to the computer workstation--telecommuting results in lower real estate costs.

Downtime. Downtime is defined as the lost time when telecommunication lines and power are down. Workers can still function regardless of weather, holidays, special events, civil disorder, or any other reason normally
associated with the closing of a business. The result is an immediate productivity increase over the traditional workplace.

Productivity. According to a survey conducted by Infonetics Research, Inc., a network-technology research firm in San Jose, the use of telecommuting has resulted in increased sales, responsiveness, and employee morale.

Remote Access or Remote Control?

Why would you, the CFO of a company want to install, and assume the cost and maintenance of RA? What benefits of RA make this the ideal vehicle for inter- and intra-company communication?

In addition to being able to use the corporate LAN to access the Internet, RA increases the reach of the LAN. It effectively creates individual Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) or Wide Area Networks (WANs).

Remote office dial-in--the ability of field sales and technical staffs to gain access to the corporate net--is now an everyday use of RA. Calls from salespeople to the office to obtain inventory levels or place orders can be eliminated by equipping them with notebook computers. Using client server accounting systems, salespeople can enter orders directly into the accounting system. The production manager, marketing manager, and controller always have an up-to-date view of inventory requirements, sales, and bookings.

Work-at-home employees or consultants, now a significant part of corporate infrastructures, can be serviced using remote communication connectivity. With either RA or RC, these workers are now part of the corporate net, allowing them access to all the resources of the corporate computer system. These computer users effectively have the same programs, databases, and access to e-mail, files, applications, and printing of the host system(s). Database queries, including the accounting system or other systems, are now available at or from remote sites. Meetings can be held outside headquarters with full access to corporate information.

You now have the ability to use the many new groupware products currently making waves in IT circles. Products such as Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise permit groups of individuals to work on similar projects, documents, and files etc.

The RC model requires one computer to take over the function, memory, keyboard, and screen of another computer. Individuals who travel frequently can keep their notebook computers in sync with their office/home computer by using RC. Taking over a single computer permits the user to access any resource the computer is attached to, such as a printer, drive, network, etc. RC products also have the ability to tie two computers directly together. Using a serial or parallel cable permits the transfer of the entire contents of one computer to another.

RC can be a great time saver, taking advantage of large LANs. Large can mean either the number of workstations or the distance between workstations. RC programs can save time, money, and energy by permitting the IT staff to take over any workstation on the network.

Installing new or updated programs, diagnosing a PC workstation, or assisting with help desk functions can all be achieved by RC. Time is saved because the IT technician is capable of doing most anything with the software without leaving his/her work area. This is not possible using only RA, because it only provides another node on the network. RA can be used in conjunction with RC for the best of all worlds.

Organizations that require disparate groups of individuals access to the corporate network should seriously consider RA. From outside salespeople and field technicians to work-at-home employees and outside consultants, RA is probably the most cost efficient mode of providing a link into a corporate network.
For those who only need occasional access, or do not have an IT staff, RC provides an easy-to-use and cost efficient solution. *

Susan Honig, CPA, is an assistant
professor and Wayne Spivak an adjunct professor at Lehman College, CUNY.

In Brief

Your Network at Your Fingertips

With currently available remote access and remote control software products, corporate financial executives have powerful tools at their disposal. These tools enable their users to access other company computers and sites.

While remote access had been limited to large corporate environments with established computer departments, the authors describe products now available which make remote access a simple built in configuration option. Internal e-mail, order entry, and access to documents and spreadsheets are all available. Your network is now at your fingertips. The article provides the necessary steps and platforms available.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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