The days of employees doing all their work from the office, using company-owned computers, are numbered. We are heading into a world dominated by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), telecommuting, and other flexible new working styles. While this may make employees happy, in theory, it poses a major challenge for IT professionals. Concerns for network and data security mean organizations need to adopt one of two broad approaches:
- Place limits on how users can connect to the corporate resources—which frequently limits what devices the users can actually use -or-
- Adopt newer, agile technologies that can support any device, while providing the secure remote access that your company requires.
Common business sense tells us that the latter approach is the better of the two, and that we should, therefore, seek out solutions that give employees and employers tools to maintain a flexible, mobile workforce and workplace. However, before discussing what these solutions might look like, let’s take a step back and try to understand the factors that have brought us here.
The challenges of remote desktop access
An IT manager at a multinational conglomerate recently told me that for him, BYOD meant 'Bring Your Own Demons'. The barrage of IT management issues and security threats introduced by this new normal was overloading him and his IT department to the point of breaking.
Similarly, a CTO of a young enterprise software company commented that planning new releases had become a nightmare, and that her QA manager was threatening to resign -- allowing to the need to support new devices and expand network perimeters.
On the one hand, everyone, from CEOs down to junior consultants and analysts, agrees that remote desktop access is the way of the future, and their organizations must find a way to embrace the changes. However, for the most part, existing solutions are insufficient and unable to match the speed of progress.
Thus, it’s worth taking a closer look at the reasons why most existing solutions are inadequate in dealing with the issues faced by businesses today in light of workplace trends such as BYOD, mobility, work-from-home, etc.
1. Ongoing demand for simplicity
If the tool that enables remote access is overly complex or cumbersome to use, people will avoid using it. A cost-effective solution, providing ubiquitous, location independent browser access, hasn’t been available until recently, with the advent of HTML5.
For example, many organizations are still using a basic Microsoft RDP setup for remote access, alongside traditional or SSL-based VPN. While this might have been a viable solution when employee laptops were fully controlled by IT, in today’s work environment, a VPN + MS RDP setup is quickly becoming irrelevant. Using existing VPNs (both traditional and SSL-based) with an MS RDP solution alone presents a configuration headache for employees who need secure remote access to their office computing environment, such as:
- On-site (customer’s site) consultants
- Outsourced employees
- Travelling C-level executives
2. Java-related issues with traditional enterprise SSL VPN solutions
Java, which has morphed over the years from being a state-of-the-art programming language into a complete (web) development framework, has tremendous benefits for certain types of applications. But it presents significant drawbacks for others - as is the case with existing remote desktop solutions. These include:
Complex configuration and updates
SSL VPNs typically require Java, which is no longer supported by certain devices and many browsers (Chrome, Edge, Safari). Moreover, setting up SSL VPNs is not trivial, and non-technical users, who aren’t usually comfortable with installing and configuring RDP client software on their own, are much less inclined to configure an SSL VPN.
A burden on helpdesks
Java, which has its origins on Unix machines, has been beefed up to work well with Windows. But on certain non-Windows platforms, Java installation is unwieldy, if not outright impossible. This causes significant issues for end-users, as well as helpdesk staff who need to support them.
In addition, employees may need a lot of assistance with installing, configuring and learning new remote access software, and complex solutions like Citrix / VMware put real strains on limited resources (such as budget and staff).
Enterprise security risks
From a security perspective, the supposedly 'air-tight' Java framework has been somewhat of a disappointment. There have been multiple Java-related security exploits, heightening user and IT admin awareness and concern. In addition, Java is updated very frequently—partially in order to patch these vulnerabilities—irritating users and the helpdesk staff who must support them. This annoyance, in turn, frequently prompts users to disable update notifications, increasing vulnerability to cyber attacks.
3. Lack of IT Management Tools
IT departments often don’t know what type of security tools employees are using on their personal or assigned mobile devices, or who else may have access to the devices. This makes protecting employee devices, and the internal systems they can access, a much larger chore.
Now that we know what’s behind the growing need for better remote access solutions, we can focus on where things are headed, and how the right form of remote access can help the transition to mobile organizations.
Making Easy, Agile Remote Access Possible
With HTML5-based, zero installation/zero configuration access solutions, businesses can achieve true workforce mobility. They can keep employees productive all of the time, wherever they may be, using whatever device they choose—while also keeping business information and networks safe and secure.
As mentioned above, there are many inadequate offerings on the market, so it is important to keep these three qualities in mind when you are looking for a solution that will help your business:
1. Maintaining a stable, flexible workforce without extra load on helpdesks
A quality solution will deliver seamless remote access from any device – including mobile devices, Chromebooks and even locked down workstations. Even better, some offerings require zero client-side installation or configuration, and zero client-side software, plugins or add-ons, making them much simpler for users AND for IT.
2. Secured corporate data
Security is always a critical consideration, and single interface- (HTML5) based solutions are much simpler to secure. In addition, a secure remote access solution should ideally deliver access only to the specific resources a user actually needs—whereas traditional VPN-based solutions provide unencumbered access to your entire network. Finally, enterprise-class solutions should provide an option for additional security-enhancing features, such as disabling printing or clipboard functions for remote sessions.
3. Unmanaged or centrally managed
Organizations requiring additional layers of control will need a solution that allows administrators to manage access from a single, easy-to-deploy platform, and provides centralized monitoring and reporting capabilities.
A good example of a company (in this case, a law firm) that has embraced mobility, and incorporated a remote access solution that matches this forward thinking is Belin McCormick, P.C. Attorney Group. When an attorney is working from home or is on-location with a client, Belin McCormick, P.C. needs to ensure that they have instant access to the applications and data they need in order to serve clients effectively, while adhering to high standards of client data privacy.
A Belin McCormick, P.C. representative commented on how quick and easy it was to set up the HTML5 based remote access solution they now work with, and noted that the attorneys love it because the remote user-experience is so transparent and responsive—as if they were physically in front of their office PCs.
The success of today’s workforce depends on the ability of employees to securely access their office desktop from any device, in any location. Employees need the agility to grab a device and have access to everything they need to do their jobs, whether they are in the office, on a business trip or working from home. Top quality remote access solutions that embody the above attributes are changing the way businesses work by allowing them to extract value from mobility and mobile workforces.
Ilan Paretsky is Chief Marketing Officer at Ericom Software and is responsible for the global marketing activities of the company. Prior to joining Ericom in 2005, Mr. Paretsky held various leadership positions in marketing, business development, project management, and software development in the global software and telecom industries.