Networking

Remote Access Tools

Wanna access your computer from somewhere else? Remote access tools like 3AM Laboratory's Remote Anywhere are making that easy to do. During this Guild Meeting Trent Cook explained how these tools work and how you can take advantage of them.


Wanna access your computer from somewhere else? Remote access tools like 3AM Laboratory’s Remote Anywhere are making that easy to do. On September 7th Trent Cook explained how these tools work and how you can take advantage of them. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Wanna access your computer from somewhere else? Remote access tools like 3AM Laboratory’s Remote Anywhere are making that easy to do. On September 7th Trent Cook explained how these tools work and how you can take advantage of them. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the Guild Meeting
         MODERATOR: Good evening, folks, and welcome to tonight's Guild Meeting. This evening Trent Cook is going to discuss remote tools and how you can take advantage of them. I know I'd like to learn more about it, and I'm looking forward to this one.

         TRENT COOK: Has anyone here ever used any remote access utilities before?

         TLSNC: Yes, I’ve used PCanywhere, Laplink, Nt RAS, Netfinity.

         T_LINDSEY: Yes, I've used both PC anywhere and VNC.

         TECHSRUS: I've used PCanywhere.

Introducing Remotely Anywhere
         TRENT COOK: I am going to be discussing a "relatively" new product by 3AM Laboratories from Hungary. It’s called Remotely Anywhere, and it basically does what PCAnywhere does, but it has a major benefit.

         T_LINDSEY: I'm always up for learning a new product. What are some of its strengths?

         TRENT COOK: It requires no client-side software to be installed, that is except a java-enabled browser, which I am sure you are all running.

         T_LINDSEY: No client side? Isn't that a bit of a security nightmare?

         TRENT COOK: The product is a huge 5.5 MB, and it is essentially a Web server, which performs actions then outputs as HTML so it can be viewed in a browser.

         T_LINDSEY: Ah, so then the client (the PC you want to control) runs it.

         TRENT COOK: Here are a few of its features: manage services, processes, users, files, file transfers, rebooting remotely, and even a complete remote control feature where you actually see the remote computer’s entire desktop in your Web browser. You can simply then move your mouse around your browser, click on the Start button, etc., and voila the menu appears.

         T_LINDSEY: Does it run as a service under NT?

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, yes it runs as a service, but as of version 3.0 you can run it on the Win9x kernel as well, which is a bonus for home users. It’s actually rather affordable as well for the functionality..$99 dollars for a copy.

         T_LINDSEY: Hmmmm....VNC is free and open source. What kind of bandwidth requirements are we looking at here?

         TRENT COOK: The biggest downfall is the bandwidth.

Is It Better Than Linux?
         JWALLEN: It sounds like Linux.

         T_LINDSEY: Jwallen, we’re not talking remote x here.

         TLSNC: Sounds very cool.

         TRENT COOK: Jack, it will be hard to put anything against Linux. You have turned me into a little penguin lover as well.

         JWALLEN: Yeah Me! OK, so can you tell me (I'm sorry for harping on this), how is this different from using SSH in Linux?

         T_LINDSEY: I'll answer this. It allows a Mac, or Linux box, to control a Windows box.

         TRENT COOK: You will just have to put in the IP or the URL of the PC running the service, then add port :2000 or :2001. This is by default, and you can change it to whatever port you like at the install.

         WALLEN: Okay that sounds cool. So I can run a Linux box and log on to a Windows box and run any Web app remotely? However, I can do that with Linux and ssh. The big problem is throughput. If you have a slow connect, you're hurting. Does Remotely Anywhere go around this issue?

Ups and Downs of Remotely Anywhere
         T_LINDSEY: Does it use any kind of encryption?

         TRENT COOK: To be honest that is the biggest downfall, T_Lindsey. There are a couple tips for optimal use though: set the servers screen resolution to the lowest convenient value and don’t use 16-bit color, 256 is by far the fastest. I realize this isn’t the most convenient, but... If you set the resolution down on the servers at night (for you admins out there), this tool is amazing. I say this as at my previous admin job we had 14 NT/2000 boxes. I had a pager set to each service on each server. If one died, it paged me at any time of day or night. At 3 A.M. it was sweet to not have to drive into work to fix the problems.

         T_LINDSEY: jwallen, what's the easiest way to avoid NT downtime?

         TLSNC: Install Linux.

         TRENT COOK: I knew that was coming. Jack would be proud, I rolled out 2 ipchains boxes and squid proxy, but that is another chat.

         JWALLEN: The easiest way to avoid NT downtime would be format C: insert red hat CD.

         TRENT COOK: As for security Lindsey, Remotely Anywhere is basically as secure as you make it. For example, first Remotely Anywhere supports SSL (128-bit encryption).

         T_LINDSEY: So it has options for securing the stream? Good.

         TRENT COOK: Second, you can set IP address lockout for brute force hacks. Essentially what I mean here is if someone is hammering your login to try and find a username or password that will work, RA will block that IP until you clear it.

         Third, you can also set it to allow only certain IPs to ever access it. This is pretty secure, except with many ISPs you get a different IP each time you log on to the Net, so it’s not always the best method.

         T_LINDSEY: But having a remote user in Michigan to fire it up and only allow me to hit it would be fine.

         TRENT COOK: Fourth, you can bind RA to its own IP. So if you have a "live" Web server running and you set up RA on its own IP, that IP is only good for RA access. Most people would just be interested in the obvious IP anyway, which they get from the live Web server. Kind of a little extra measure I guess.

         TLSNC: So is there any downside to RA? This all sounds too good to be true.

         JECASSERLY: There are a lot of backdoor seven trojans around, but my firewall keeps them blocked.

         TRENT COOK: Jecasserly, you actually brought up my last point. You can also secure your systems with a firewall, but you will have to have the firewall forward various ports to the internal RA server or the requests will get dropped at the firewall.

            T_LINDSEY: Does the $99 price tag get you unlimited updates to the program?

         TRENT COOK: For $99 you do get updates, for example 3.0 -3.2 which is current, but like any piece of software (Linux not included), there is usually a limit. I’m guessing 4.0 will be a purchase upgrade. The install actually lets you set an option so RA will auto check for updates to keep itself current as well.

         TLSNC: Can we use just 56k modem dialup effectively? I do not have access to cable or DSL in my area.

         TRENT COOK: 56k dialup will work, and if you are doing emergency reboots/config/service restarts, etc., it will be fine. However, if you are working on the remote machine, using Photoshop or something, I wouldn’t recommend a 56k modem.

         JECASSERLY: It would be so slow.

         T_LINDSEY: What's the HW requirements for running it? I still have some remote users who have Pentium 166s on their laptops.

         TRENT COOK: Good question, Lindsey. RA is very forgiving. The hardware requirements are: if your box can run Windows 95 or NT3.51/4, you are good to go.

         T_LINDSEY: So the software is only for Windows machines, no Mac client?

         TRENT COOK: As of yet, there is no Mac client that I am aware of.

         Something else I would like to mention here: To think of a Web server added to a box, what if the box gets locked up (and we all know Windows does that from time to time), will I still have access to RA at 3 A.M. or will I have to drive in to work?

         TLSNC: We are talking support here.

         TRENT COOK: I have never been locked out from RA due to a system crash or lockup. Once I was at the console and ColdFusion had the server so hammered I couldn’t even reboot. I actually went to my workstation, connected via RA, and rebooted the machine fine.

         JECASSERLY: Sounds too good to be true.

         TLSNC: Sounds like this is one very handy tool!

         TRENT COOK: Give it a try. I am not working for the company or anything. It just doesn’t take too many early morning or late night remote sessions to think the product is a godsend.

         T_LINDSEY: I'm finding that hard to believe. It (the server) was unaffected by a system crash? BSOD?

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, there was no BSOD, the box was 100% utilized. Coldfusion service had all resources so locked that I couldn’t even reboot locally, yet Remotely Anywhere allowed me to still connect and reboot. RA comes with 3 versions of reboot—Normal, Emergency, and Fast. If you do an emergency reboot, it waits for nothing, just kills the host and restarts the PC. It can also be set to autologon as well.

Another alternative: VNC
         T_LINDSEY: Can I throw a product recommendation in here?

         MODERATOR: Absolutely.

         JECASSERLY: We’re all ears.

         T_LINDSEY: There's another product that I use a lot. It’s called VNC. It's a free and bandwidth-friendly remote app.

         TLSNC: Yes, I was going to ask you what product that was.

         T_LINDSEY: The only downfall is that VNC doesn't have a file transfer utility.

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, would you like to tell us where to get this. I would love to give it a try. I’m always game for new utilities.

         T_LINDSEY: Visit www.uk.research.att.com/vnc.

         TRENT COOK: Very nice, thanks.

         T_LINDSEY: It's not huge; the server and client will fit on a floppy (or so). I am a bit partial to it. It allows cross-platform connection from any OS to any other OS.

         TRENT COOK: That is a good feature as well, Lindsey.

Still another alternative: PCanywhere Express
         TRENT COOK: For you PCanywhere users out there, have you tried PCanywhere Express?

         T_LINDSEY: What's the difference between the two? Sort of a "thinner" version of PCanywhere?

         TRENT COOK: This is a similar product to RA, although you have to install software at each client. RA has minimum requirements of just a Web browser and a box that will run Windows; PCAnywhere Express needs Pentium 100, 32 MB RAM, 95/NT, 2MB hard disk, and a PC Anywhere host of version 8.0 or up. I prefer RA, but PCAnywhere uses Autocolor Scale technology to aid in slower connections suffering from a decent resolution/color depth at the server

Supporting Multiple Clients with Remotely Anywhere
         T_LINDSEY: Does Remotely Anywhere support multiple clients attaching to it? For example, can another tech and I connect to the same box to work on it?

         TRENT COOK: Good Question. Multiple people can connect and use RA utilities, filemanager, regedit, usermanager, service manager, etc., but they cannot take remote control of the box at the same time. Also if there is someone at the machine when you connect to it, the local user can deny your remote control session to the server as only one person can move the mouse cursor, etc., at once. You will have to log out, then another user can connect.

         T_LINDSEY: So, is there a way to "pass the baton" between two connections easily?

         TRENT COOK: Guess there is no easy way to "pass the baton" if you will.

         JECASSERLY: There really should not be.

Experience with SSL
         TRENT COOK: Has anyone here ever set up SSL?

         T_LINDSEY: No, unfortunately, I always copped out and just VNC'd to it.

         TLSNC: Not me.

         TRENT COOK: SSL can be a time-consuming and expensive process. This is because you fill out your company info, name, etc., which creates a request. Then you send the request to an Internet certificate authority, such as verisign. RA has a great tool here.

         JECASSERLY: Versign is good.

         T_LINDSEY: I'm guessing it's easy to set up with RA?

         TRENT COOK: When you install RA, it uses the country, organization, and name, and it then auto creates the request, authorizes it, and gives itself the authorization. This is a quick and painless way to get yourself an SSL 128-bit connection, which is the industry standard.

Are you sold on Remotely Anywhere?
         TRENT COOK: So have I impressed any of you yet on my friend Remotely Anywhere?

         JECASSERLY: Yes, I am.

         MODERATOR: I'm impressed!

         JECASSERLY: I’m very impressed.

         TRENT COOK: I really hope that you will give it a try. When it saved me numerous trips back to the office, I was sold!

         T_LINDSEY: Sounds pretty good actually, although it would be better if it was open sourced.

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, wouldn’t everything?

         JECASSERLY: Well, anything that would reboot your Win lock is worth the trouble.

         TLSNC: Showing them (the "bean counters") is always better than just giving them reviews.

         T_LINDSEY: And I do like the kludge for the SSL cert. It’s kind of hackerish, but slick.

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, you are right. It is a little hackerish, but you have to look at what you need it for. It should be just for you and the certain people you want to access the box, not like EBAY, which has to be verified as a valid company by verisign for VISA transactions, etc.

         T_LINDSEY: I meant hackerish in a good way. I'm impressed with workarounds like that.

         TRENT COOK: You’re right, though, it is hackerish, and it is a good thing. Why pay more money for the encryption and have to wait? This way you can be 100 percent secure (or as 100 percent as the Internet can be).

         TLSNC: I still want to know if there is a try and buy.

         TRENT COOK: Tlsnc, visit http://www.remotelyanywhere.com/. You can download the full product, and it will run for 30 days, then you can buy if you like or ditch it.

         T_LINDSEY: Where is the company located that makes it?

         TRENT COOK: Lindsey, the company is in Budapest, Hungary.

         T_LINDSEY: How long has this application and company been around?

         TRENT COOK: I first started using it about 8 months ago, T_Lindsey.

         I noticed that many of you who had used remote access utilities had used PCAnywhere. I challenge you to try RA and compare the two. I think you will prefer RA. One thing it lacks from PCAnywhere is the Yahoo chat client, but hey, who needs it, right

         T_LINDSEY: I will try Remote Anywhere if you will try VNC. Deal?

         TRENT COOK: You have a deal Lindsey. I have that URL written down and will be going there right after the chat actually.

         TLSNC: PCAnywhere would not be my choice, if I had one.

Final tally
         MODERATOR: Great meeting tonight, by the way, you tech guys. Let's have a round of applause for our speaker, Trent Cook.     

         TRENT COOK: I thank you so much for your feedback throughout the chat, and I want to thank all of you for comments, questions, and of course for coming.

         MODERATOR: I hope to see you, all of you, at future chats. Trent, are you scheduled for a return yet?

         TRENT COOK: I’m not etched in stone, but I will probably be back next month.

         MODERATOR: And on the famous words of wisdom, the very answer to life, the universe, and everything, I bid you a good night.
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