With all of the changes in the way that ICT is being used in learning, there’s an increasing demand for staff to have remote access to university systems, from home or other times when they are away from your campus. Sometimes it can be enough to provide access to limited parts of your system, but it is becoming increasingly common that a lecturer or another member of staff needs to have more comprehensive secure access to the university network. In the past, the solution for doing this was to implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which often has cost implications in both hardware and software terms, but with Windows 7 there are many other ways to provide secure remote access to your networks – giving you ‘Anywhere Access’. The key is that more technology to help is being built into the operating system, reducing the need for additional software.
There are a number of key parts in Windows 7 that can be used to create anywhere access for staff:
- Mobile Broadband
Historically each mobile data card or dongle comes with their own software to manage the connection, whereas now Windows 7 manages the connection in the same way as it handles your WiFi and normal network connections – meaning staff have one consistent way to get online.
- Direct Access
Rather than configuring a VPN, Direct Access allows you to create a secure connection between a computer outside of your network, and your servers. It uses features both in Windows 7 Enterprise Edition (which is the version you get on a Campus Agreement) and in Windows Server 2008 R2. The beauty of it from a user’s perspective is that it doesn’t get in the way of a users Internet access from home, only re-routing the traffic that needs to go to your servers. A traditional VPN connection re-routes everything through your servers, and typically slows down Internet access. The other relevant benefit of Direct Access is that you can configure it for two-factor authentication with a smart card, which is required for access to MIS data remotely.
I use Direct Access on my Microsoft laptop, so when I’m working at home, I simply insert my Smart Card to get to the Microsoft network, whereas before I had to enable VPN and then watch all the rest of my internet access crawl along as it was redirected through the corporate connection.
- VPN Reconnect
If you’re still using a VPN connection, and not yet ready to switch to Direct Access, then you’ll like the fact that Windows 7 has VPN Reconnect built it – basically if you’ve got a temperamental internet connection (either at home, or when using mobile internet), it re-establishes the connection after a temporary glitch without the user being aware.
This is useful for multi-site setups, eg when you have a remote learning centre, or study centres in different places. In a nutshell, it speeds up access to frequently used information, and reduces the bandwidth use (and delays) when accessing files on the main network.
The information above is only a brief summary – to read more detail about each of these, then take a look at the Windows Team blog post “Understanding anywhere access with Windows 7”