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Business Continuity Success Series Part 3: Remote Access Solutions

Posted by Server@Work | Jun 18, 2016 12:37:30 PM

Your important data and line of business applications are backed up in the cloud and can be restored anywhere.  Months in advance you identified a cloud services provider that delivers the platform you are looking for and you have your servers spun up, seeded with your backup data, and ready to go.  Now what?

In your Business Continuity plan, the remote access solution is what brings it all together.  It answers the lingering question of how do your employees gain access to your virtual office and work from their homes, hotels, and THE ROAD.  Furthermore, your remote access solution investment can also be leveraged for everyday use to make your business more flexible and productive.  The right remote access solution is the answer to all these concerns.  According to a recent survey of small and medium sized businesses by Microsoft, 70% of small to medium sized businesses who invested in remote work solutions saved money in their business thanks to the cloud.

Review

Getting started we published an Infographic Overview of the five components of business continuity success which we will cover in this blog series:

The Business Continuity solution in its simplest form is to backup your data to the cloud where it can be restored to a warm data center at any time.  The warm data center will have a remote access solution in place that allows your dispersed employees to connect to your servers and work from anywhere using their personal and company devices.  Finally, your business needs uninterrupted access to your IT Support Desk in this time of need.

The third article in this series discusses the Remote Access Solution.

What is a Remote Access Solution?

Remote Access Solutions come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be as small as using SharePoint Online to store documents in Microsoft's cloud that can then be accessed from anywhere with almost any device.  On the more complete side, the remote access solution delivers a virtual desktop fully-loaded with all your programs, line of business applications, files, documents, and databases.  The later doesn't just get you by, it allows you to be fully productive and able to complete all tasks without making any changes in the way you work.

Complete remote access solutions are often used by businesses as the only way to provide computer access to their employees; due to its ability to deliver the same set of applications and data to users no matter where they are working.

In terms of Business Continuity, we aren't just looking to access a few Word documents, we must have unfetered access to Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable applications, we need to continue to take care of Payroll; and just as important, we need access to our complete set of applications to continue generating Revenue.

To that end, we are focusing on the delivery of virtual desktops that provide access to everything your business needs to continue operating seamlessly during a disaster or extended downtime.

Remote Access Solution Components

Since this is an executive overview, I promise I won't be getting technical here.  But an understanding of the basic components of a remote access solution will help you make better business decisions about what you want to put into your Business Continuity Plan and how you can leverage it in your everyday operations to make the most of your investment.

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Application Servers

Let's work backwards from the diagram above and work from right-to-left.  There are some technical pieces missing from the diagram but it is safe to say that a properly configured remote access solution works.  In the case of Citrix it has worked since 1989.  That's right, the "cloud" isn't something new.  Citrix has been doing it since the release of Ghostbusters II and is still the industry leader in business and enterprise remote access solutions.

So in your data center you have your file servers, database servers, and line of business applications running and ready for your users to access them.  All you need now are Citrix XenApp Servers sitting alongside them.  Citrix XenApp Servers are the application distribution servers your employees remotely access to get their Virtual Desktops and applications.

It may sound odd that your users are going to connect to a server operating system since it seems to be so different from the regular Windows 10/8.1/7 workstation your employees are used to working at.  Well, it really isn't so different.  For each Windows desktop operating system there is a corresponding or similar Windows Server operating system that shares the same look, navigation, and functionality.  What we do in the XenApp environment is hide and remove access to the server features and present only the look and feel of a Windows desktop operating system.  So, for example, an employee who is used to working in Windows 7 gets the same look and feel from a Windows 2008 R2 based XenApp virtual desktop.  And since it is a server operating system, one server can support dozens of your employees working in applications and desktops at the same time.

On your virtual desktop is loaded all the programs and applications you use in your office.  The virtual desktop looks, interacts, and operates just like a local workstation does in your business.  Mapped network drives, My Documents folders, everything is there with the difference from your local workstation being the virtual desktop can be accessed from any desktop, laptop, tablet PC, iPad, Android tablet, or smartphone you and your employees may have.

Secure Logins

netscaler-login.pngLogins to your Citrix XenApp virtual desktop are handled by a secure virtual appliance called a Citrix Netscaler.  The Netscaler is a virtual appliance added to your cloud hosting solution.

The Netscaler has two ways to allow your users to login: a login webpage and a Citrix Receiver.

The login webpage, pictured to the left, is accessed from any web browser and your employees simply enter their usernames and passwords to login.  Similarly the Citrix Receiver, which is installed on your computer, tablet, and smartphone, can be used for authentication against the Netscaler and provide access to your virtual desktops and applications such as the image below.  To launch your desktop or application, just click or touch the icon and in seconds you are up and running.

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Office and Remote Devices

Now the easy part.  To use your business and personal devices to access your deployed resources all you need to do is download and install the free Citrix Receiver for Windows or Mac; or, if you are using an iOS or Android device just head to your AppStore or Play Store and download and install the Receiver.  Your IT or Citrix consultant will provide you with your login page to access your Netscaler and you should already know your credentials.

What Happens Next?

The hard part is done.  You won't do it yourself.  Likely the same IT resource that was able to get you setup with your cloud backup and get you fully functional with your cloud services provider was also able to get your Citrix environment operational.  Or perhaps you engaged a third party contractor to build and maintain your Citrix environment. There are also turnkey solutions available that provide you with a fully operational Citrix environment and the only thing needed is to restore your cloud data to your custom servers.

In our next Blog article, we will go over the pros and cons of BYOD and how you can make "Bring Your Own Device" work for your company in a big way.

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Topics: XenApp, Disaster Recovery, Citrix, Business Continuity, Virtual Desktop