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Managing networks while you're away

Solving network problems without having to rush into the office used to be a dream, but no more. Kesem Technology's Adam Solomon sheds light on wireless remote management technology--and how it can help you.

Any network administrator could testify that the principle of "what goes up must come down" certainly applies to networks. They can go down at the most inopportune times; usually when it's impossible to get into the office to find out what's wrong. Kesem Technology LLC of Silver Spring, Maryland helps network administrators manage their networks from anywhere with a new generation of wireless remote management tools. In this interview with searchWindowsManageability, Kesem Technology president and founder Adam Solomon discusses the advantages of wireless remote management and the options companies have today.

searchWindowsManageability: What are the top issues involved in selecting the right remote network management solution?

Whether it's traditional or wireless, consider the interface that you're working with. How is the connection that your network has to the Internet? How well can you get into it? Security is always a big issue. That's always a tough rope to balance. If you leave yourself too much of a powerful opening to the outside world to fix your network, you invite the wrong people in to fix your network in ways you wouldn't want it to be fixed. Yet, you also want to leave enough of an opening so that you can do what you would want to be able to do effectively.

searchWindowsManageability: Why would a company want to consider wireless remote network management?

The traditional type of remote management is done through products like HP OpenView or PC Anywhere. You can actually work on your network, your servers, and basically view employees' desktops on your desktop. It's a really great solution--if you're at a PC. If you're not at a PC, you're out of luck. That's where the wireless remote network administration has come in.

searchWindowsManageability: What are some other benefits of wireless remote network management?

The main benefit is that you don't have to be at a PC, but it's not just a convenience factor. Our Serverphone solution, for example, is not meant to replace HP OpenView or PC Anywhere. It's not as functionality-rich as those products, but it allows you to do your core functionality from anywhere. If you're a small shop and you don't have a 24x7 staff, it's great because you don't have one person constantly chained down to the server or PC. Even if you're a larger organization, it's going to help you because you won't have your best people on call or on site 24x7. You don't have to people move from one end of your campus to another. More importantly, it allows you to keep your service level agreements.

searchWindowsManageability: Can you expand on that?

Most hosts companies and ISPs have SLAs--service level agreements--with their customers saying that in case of a problem, they will respond within a certain amount of time. A lot of those SLAs aren't kept to. It's cheaper for the company to pay off to the customer for breaking the SLA than to actually have the staff in place to keep the SLA. With a solution like ours, you can keep your agreements with your customers and do it for a much cheaper level than traditional means. So, the main advantage is that you don't have to be in front of a PC, but there are all sorts of ramifications to that..

searchWindowsManageability: How easy is it for a company to set up wireless remote network management solutions?

It's relatively easy. I'll give you an example with our software. Let's say you have 10 servers on your network. You install the software on your main server. That main server controls the other slave servers on your network. The software is entirely Web-based, unlike traditional software. With the software set up on your main server, you can go right to your cell phone and use the menu-driven drilldown systems. As you know, the typing on these devices is difficult due to a limited interface. You log in, choose your server, choose your service or your program that you want to control, then choose your action. People pick up on it pretty quickly.

searchWindowsManagability: What are the limitations of wireless remote network management?

It all depends on what your network is doing. If the main router to the outside world is down and your network is completely off the Internet, then nothing's going to get through. If you can't at least make a TCP/IP connection to the server in question, you're out of luck. Also, with wireless networking, your device could be as limited in interface as a cell phone, or it could be something like a Compaq iPaq--with a full-color graphical interface--that allows you to do a whole lot more. A cell phone has a data transfer rate that's about 9 or 10K, so you can't really move much data around with any efficiency. It would be difficult to set up users or permissions on an NT network from a cell phone, but from a Pocket PC, it's a lot easier to do. What's going to hold you down is the interface.

searchWindowsManageability: How could a company solve the security issues of using a wireless remote network management product?

Actions need to occur behind a corporate firewall or VPN. The transactions between the wireless device and the server that go over the public Internet need to be encrypted using SSL encryption.

searchWindowsManageability: What products are on the market that facilitate wireless remote management?

There are several new products. Microsoft has come out with Windows Terminal Server for the Pocket PC 2002 platform. My company's product, Serverphone, allows you to control your networks, servers, and anything in between from your cell phone or other wireless device. A couple of small vendors are out there who are doing some similar things. All the technologies for wireless remote network administration are pretty new at this point.

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