Remote Access Servers

Written by Clive Swanepoel
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Dial-up ISP customers, telecommuters and road warriors are the prime users of remote access servers. Typically, users need to access a LAN from a remote location to work with files, or to use printers and other services. In order to do so, remote users must first connect to a remote access server (RAS). The RAS is in turn connected to the LAN that they want to access.

Remote Network Access for Telecommuters

A remote user could be a salesperson using an analog dial-up modem from a hotel room, or a telecommuter connecting from home via a dedicated ISDN line. The remote access server authenticates users before allowing them access to the network. The most common access method is via a dial-up modem. Broadband connections are growing rapidly, but it will be years before they surpass the number of dial-up connections.

Firewalls Included

Remote access servers are often configured with firewall software or routers to ensure the security of the network. While ensuring security is an important function, the RAS must also allow fast and reliable access to the LAN. Remote users are quickly frustrated by slow transmissions and frequently dropped connections.

When selecting a remote access server, it is essential to make sure that it can support the existing LAN user database. This avoids the inconvenience of managing multiple user databases. In addition, the server should have a sufficient number of ports to handle the anticipated user traffic. As a general rule, eight ports should be sufficient to handle 100 users. The system should be easily scaleable to allow for the rapidly changing requirements, typical of most ISPs and networks.

Overseas Connections

It is important to take into account the kind of connection the remote users will likely be using. If they will be accessing the network from overseas countries, the remote access server will need to be able to handle analog traffic. The best models of remote access servers are able to handle both analog and digital connections.

Software for remote access servers generally includes comprehensive user logs. Administrators are able to generate real-time reports known as accounting reports. These reports record such details as the start and stop times of each connection, connection failures, how many bytes were transferred and the activity of each port. The report data enables network managers to quickly isolate and fix problems.

The Console Server

A console server is a RAS that provides remote access to data center equipment. It is used by network administrators to monitor and control servers and other network devices from anywhere on the corporate network, over the Internet, or through dial-up modem connections. This type of RAS is essential where administrators need to manage networks at a number of geographically separate locations.

For SOHO applications, a RAS may not be needed. If all that is required is for one person to be able to access a home or office desktop PC from a remote location, there are a number of entry level software packages that can be used to connect two PCs remotely and securely. A modem would be required at each end of the transmission.

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