Log-on offers easier remote control

A startup is launching an appliance that lets help desk staff take control of remote computers without the time-consuming tasks of installing and maintaining dedicated software on the remote machines.

Network Streaming’s NS Support Appliance lets users log on to the appliance via a Web browser and set up a remote control session with a help desk. The appliance runs Network Streaming’s SupportDesk software, and can sit outside corporate firewalls or between firewalls in a secure network segment. Because it uses HTTP Ports 80 and 443, which are generally left open, it requires no firewall reconfiguration. The downside is that an authorized user must be sitting at the machine to initiate sessions.

Alternatives require each remote PC to have remote control client software installed so a help desk can initiate a session. Remote control software vendors include Funk Software, NetOp and NetSupport. Remote control services include 3 a.m. Labs, GoToMyPC and WebEx. Like remote control software, the services also require installing a client on the remote machines.

Network Streaming opted for an appliance rather than a remote control service because the device lets customers control the interaction without having to use a service provider’s network. This improves security and gives customers a fixed cost for the capability rather than paying a monthly fee for a service, says Joel Bomgaars, the founder and CEO of the company.

Medical software maker Physician Micro Systems in Seattle uses the appliance to help customers with its Practice Partner software, says Malcolm Hooper, operations manager. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act “requires we have a good handle on security when transferring patient confidential information,” he says. “With the appliance in-house, we know it’s not going anywhere else from the start of the encryption path to the end. It’s all under our control.”

Physician Micro Systems had used PC Anywhere software, but each doctor’s office had to buy the client software and Physician Micro Systems had to constantly upgrade to the current version so it could interact with its 1,300 customer sites, Hooper says.

Now a Physician Micro Systems service representative phones a customer and tells him to log on to meet.pmsi.com and click on the service representative’s name to connect. “This is much more effective because we’re dealing with people that don’t have that much experience with technology,” Hooper says.

The company sells two other software packages that run on the appliance hardware, one of which enables taking remote control of unmanned machines. AccessDesk requires installing a software client on the remote machine, and is designed for maintaining and troubleshooting remote servers. PresentationDesk, the other software package, enables collaboration sessions among individual PCs. Users that want to join a conference must log on to the appliance to get connected.

The company was founded by Bomgaars, a former help desk engineer for a systems integrator in Jackson, Miss., who spent too much time sweltering in his car to support clients because he couldn’t control their machines from his office, he says. He wrote software that let him take over the machines and reboot and reconnect so he could work on them and check that he had solved the problem.

The Support Appliance costs US$1,700. An enterprise copy of SupportDesk costs US$1,500, AccessDesk US$45 and PresentationDesk US$800.

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