Product review: Remote access receives a boost

Remote access has moved up the list of priorities for many network managers. Traditional products – including remote dial-up, VPNs and dedicated WANs – don’t cut it because of high cost and slow speeds. Turnkey solutions with low administration and maintenance costs have the highest appeal.

Netilla Networks Inc. recently debuted Netilla Virtual Office, a turnkey remote access product built around Windows 2000 Terminal Server and a Linux-based access box. Netilla lets any application that works with Terminal Server function over the Web. All network traffic uses 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer security for maximum protection. User authentication is handled on a pass-through basis to a standard Windows NT domain or a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Services server. Future releases will support Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and Kerberos authentication periods.

Once you start an application using Netilla Virtual Office, it looks as if you’re running it on a local machine. Netilla delivers one of the simplest solutions available, and it is worth a look if you need to give your teleworkers seamless, secure access to network applications from a browser.

Installation Included

To ensure Netilla Virtual Office is configured correctly, Netilla only sells it through value-added resellers and system integrators. A Netilla technician helped configure the product for our network.

Our installation was completed in less than an hour, including configuring a handful of applications. We tested the box on a small network connected to the Internet using a DSL modem and a Linksys BEFW11S4 four-port hub/router. We configured the router to treat the Netilla Service Box (NSB) as a demilitarized zone host, so all inbound Internet traffic would pass directly to the IP address of the Netilla box.

To complete the configuration, Netilla uses a site survey form to gather necessary information including IP addresses of the internal network, gateway interface, DNS servers and a dedicated IP interface for the public interface of the NSB.

Next, Netilla configures the NSB prior to shipping it to the customer. On arrival, there’s little left to do to get the box up and running. Some testing is required to make sure the DNS has been configured properly and that the box can be seen from outside the firewall. You must install Windows 2000 Terminal Server on the server that hosts the applications, and you must obtain one Microsoft Terminal Server Client Access License for each concurrent user connected to the Netilla box.

All in the Browser

Once the NSB is configured, there should not be any need to touch the box again. All administration functions use a Web browser from the internal network or remotely via the Web.

Unfortunately, the first iteration of Netilla Virtual Office doesn’t support user groups, requiring you add to each user by hand, as well as specify what service each user will start with (My Admin, My Apps, My E-Mail, My Files), whether separate windows will be used for different applications, and whether to flush the application password cache when launching applications.

Administering applications is a breeze. Information needed to configure an application is stored in the directory on the server along with the executable file. Giving users access to a particular application is a matter of selecting the user name from a list and clicking on an add button.

Netilla Virtual Office also includes a remote control feature that eases management by making all the standard Windows functions available through a Web browser.

Beyond application serving, My E-Mail provides a Web-based interface to any Internet Message Access Protocol-based “e-mail server.

User Experience

The true measure of success of any remote access product comes down to ease of use and performance. Netilla’s ease of use is top-notch. It presents applications as icons similar to a standard Windows desktop. When you launch applications or access files, the interface is identical.

Using Netilla Virtual Office makes it possible to leave large applications on the server and not on a local system, which could be most practical for serving custom or line-of-business applications. The My Files tool makes it easy to move files between your local hard drive and a remote network drive.

We tested the access from different types of Internet connections from a 56K dial-up line to a T-3 dedicated line and found the speed more than adequate. Over dial up, response times were slower but the product was still usable.

Paul Ferrill is a freelance writer in Lancaster, Calif. He’s been using and writing about networks for more than 15 years. He can be reached