Right now, many of our clients are looking for ways to support a suddenly remote workforce, as the impact of COVID-19 ripples through the U.S. There are several ways your organization can support a remote workforce, and here we share a few common options along with pros, cons, and considerations. Here are 4 enterprise-grade remote access solutions that can be deployed in accordance with proper security controls and oversight.
1. Cloud-Hosted Apps
By far the easiest path is to offer your remote workforce access to cloud-hosted apps available through any Internet connection. Web-based services like Office 365, GoToMeeting or Zoom, along with Dropbox and other file sharing tools may be enough for your remote team.
• Pros: Obviously with cloud-hosted apps, you’re relieved from having to uplift any infrastructure for additional remote access back to data centers, as your users will simply need a capable (and secured) device and Internet access.
• Cons: Establishing remote work without the protection of a strict BYOD policy and/or endpoint security for each endpoint accessing your data can introduce insurmountable security risks.
• Considerations: For whatever devices your team will be using, ensure you have centrally-controlled endpoint security to enforce corporate security compliance, enforce web filtering and web hygiene, control data flow and storage, and prevent leakage of IP, PII, or other classified data types.
2. Client VPNs
Client VPNs come in many flavors but the gist is that an endpoint (e.g. laptop) can connect client-to-server, with the server being logically inside your organization in a way it can securely provide access to internal resources to the client. Client VPN can be SSL-VPN, IPsec VPN, or combinations of both, depending on what level of access the user needs. SSL-VPNs are initiated over a standard web browser session, while IPsec client VPNs will require an agent to be installed on the endpoint.
• Pros: Client VPNs can be relatively easy to deploy (on the back-end) and can be used for very granular control of access to resources within the organization.
• Cons: Getting non-IT users set up on VPN the first time can be daunting, and in large organizations, there can be complexity with mapping least privilege to the correct users or groups if remote access needs aren’t clearly documented or defined.
• Considerations: Your current firewall most likely supports a certain number of client VPN connections without a hardware upgrade. See will my current infrastructure support client VPNs?
If you’re unsure or want additional info, contact us for options with your current firewall, or ask us about our drop-in client VPN solution to supplement your current firewall.
3. Remote/Tunneled Wireless APs
Remote APs are wireless access points (typically with a few wired ports as well) that can sit at a user’s home office (or on the road) and connect back to a central controller within your organization’s network. Similar to the client VPN options, the Remote AP establishes the tunnel instead of the client device, and the AP can extend wired or wireless networks to the user’s home.
• Pros: Remote APs can be managed with virtual or physical controllers, are relatively inexpensive, and easy to configure. By extending the organization’s existing wireless network(s) with the same security and authentication requirements, the user can continue working just as if he/she was sitting in the office.
• Cons: Remote APs themselves are hardware access points that must be delivered physically to the user, and they do require pre-configuration before use. The user would just need to connect the remote AP to his/her home Internet router with a standard network cable.
• Considerations: Your remote users connecting via Remote Aps will be dropped in your wireless network just as though they were sitting at their desks. That can be extended to certain wired connectivity as well (e.g. to support a wired VoIP desk phone). If you don’t want that level of network access, consider a Client VPN instead.
Virtual desktops are another great way to facilitate remote access. With virtual desktops, your users will connect through remote access or Internet to resources within the organization through a virtual desktop (such as Citrix).
• Pros: Offers exceptional security and control of the data and resources to be accessed, since the data is contained within the virtual infrastructure.
• Cons: Costly and time-consuming to implement, VDI is a great remote option for organizations already with the infrastructure, but much more challenging to spin up in a pinch.
• Considerations: If your organization is using VDI now, talk to your account manager about options to expand the footprint and licensing.