Remote Usage / Access to Our Software

It is often desirable to run / access our software from locations outside your main office.  Typical scenarios where you may want to do this are:

  • For a director / staff member to work from home during the evening (or circumstances where they work from home during the day for a special period or regularly on certain days of the week),
  • A branch office (with multiple personnel, or even just a single person who lives and works for you in a location several hours away)
  • Several staff regularly need the flexibility to access Job or Client information remotely using a tablet or notebook, and enter timesheets in the evening from a motel, say
  • One or more sales reps who work remotely - in another city (or country), and need to access Adminsoft for CRM, plus sending Quotations and entering Orders

There are several possible architectures that facilitate the above scenarios.  Each of these have various strengths, weaknesses, and costs associated with them, and you should discuss their relative merits with your IT supplier, in order to formulate the best solution for you.  (We are happy to contribute to that discussion if you would like us to do so.)  Here is a brief summary of the respective architectures:

Simple Remote Desktop

The simplest way for individuals to work from home, is where personnel have a desktop computer in the office (that they leave running when they depart).  They can then merely remote into this from their computer at home, using the Microsoft Windows RDP facility (which comes as a standard feature in any "Professional" version of Windows), or using something like VNC - both of which will require assistance from your IT provider to set up securely. Alternatively, you can use Google's Chrome Remote DeskTop, which does not require specialist configuration by your IT provider.  Remote users can do whatever they normally do on their office computer as if they were sitting at their desk (i.e. they can access email, and use MSWord or Excel, in addition to running Adminsoft).  All data is stored on your server (or on the local hard drive of their computer in the office).  The screens are merely relayed to their computer at home (which is fairly efficient).  This method is reasonably secure, especially if they have a static / fixed IP address at home (which is usually only a small extra monthly fee).

This architecture can also be used, if you have a spare computer (or several) that you can push into a corner somewhere in the main office.  The spare computer can be accessed remotely by staff who are based in another city, or by main office staff who are working from home (using their work notebook or their home computer).  Your remote user(s) would log into this spare computer using simple Remote Desktop.  Only one remote user can use that computer at a time - it cannot be shared simultaneously by two remote users.  (Two users could simultaneously remote into two different spare computers, obviously.)  If a spare computer has reasonably good specs (and sufficient RAM), it is possible to run a virtual machine (or multiple VMs) on it, which will allow two (or more) users to access it simultaneously.

Transfer Facility - Notebook Computer

Adminsoft's Transfer Facility enables a notebook to run a copy of our software and data on its local hard-disk, and synchronize this with the data on the file server in your office.  This can be done either remotely, or when the person returns to the office and plugs their notebook into the office network.  Remote re-synchronisations can be sent via email or by connecting to the server over a VPN.  However, these days, we recommend that you use a simple third-party file mirroring tool like "DropBox" rather than a VPN, because it is a fraction more robust.  (If an Internet connection is not available, the transfer files will merely be held over, and sent as soon as a connection to the Internet is restored.)

Branch Office(s) - Transfer Facility

If you have two or more offices, each with their own file server, then you can run a copy of our software and data on the server at each office, and use our Transfer Facility to keep them synchronized.  It works with two or more branch offices - our Transfer Facility can relay changes on to the other branch offices.  If you have a very reliable VPN connection between your offices, this can be used as the transport mechanism for the transfer files.  Alternatively, a file mirroring tool like DropBox can provide the file transfer mechanism.  This architecture is very robust, in that it allows users in both (or all) offices to continue to use our software, even if they have temporarily lost their connection to the Internet, and it is not adversely affected by periods of poor Internet performance. 

Citrix or Terminal Server - based in the Main Office

This architecture requires a specially dedicated server located in the main office (where it can access your normal file server).  Citrix (from Citrix Systems) or Terminal Server (from Microsoft) is installed on this server, and runs the software applications for respective users.  It works much the same as RDP or VNC in the "Simple Remote Desktop" section above, but allows multiple users to connect simultaneously.  You can connect users in a branch office to this via your VPN, and also people who wish to work from home (or a motel, or even their vehicle) who connect to it via the Internet.  Users in your main office can also connect to it using your LAN - and some sites use this setup to extend the life of old and slow computers (which then merely operate as a 'dumb screen display').  Both Citrix and Terminal Services support non-Windows devices, allowing people to use Android and Apple tablets (and even smartphones - although their screens tend to be a bit too small for regular use).  Each user is configured with their own Windows looking desktop, which they view in a separate "client window" on their own computer, notebook, or tablet.  Adminsoft (and other software applications) run on the server, and updated screens are sent to and viewed in the client window on their local or remote device.

In a multiple office environment, you would only use the Citrix / Terminal Server for those applications that would benefit from it - such as database applications like Adminsoft, or where there is a significant benefit from a licensing cost perspective.  If Adminsoft is accessed locally in the main office, and via the Citrix / Terminal Services Server for all remote usage, then there is no need to run our Transfer Facility.  Because of the large file sizes and high resolution screen images involved, it is better to run applications like CAD locally in the respective office - although the files may then be mirrored to the other office if they need to be viewed there also (or for backup purposes).

Note:  There is another product, called TS-Plus, which does the same thing as Citrix and Terminal Server, but has considerably lower licensing costs.  This can be run on a reasonable spec workstation, rather than a full 'server', significantly reducing the hardware outlay, and support costs.  Some questions have been raised as to the legitimacy of TS-Plus effectively using a single Windows licence for multiple users.  However, this product is based in the USA, and has been on the market for more than 10 years.  During that time Microsoft has not taken them to court, and has not expressed any intention to do so.

Citrix or Terminal Server - Hosted

This is very similar to running Citrix / Terminal Services on a special dedicated server in the main office, except that the server is hosted by a specialist third-party company that provides hosting / "cloud" services.  For strategic reliability and performance considerations, it is usually best if the hosting company's server farm is located in the same city as your main office (or biggest branch office, if you have a server in your main office and only remote users access the hosted server).  A hosted architecture usually has significantly lower startup costs - because you lease the server resources (rather than purchase them), and the hosting company can usually obtain volume discounts on your Citrix or Terminal Server "seat licences".  Economy of scale (in the hosting company) tends to reduce your ongoing server administration costs, and they usually reduce the 'hassle factor'.  There are two scenarios for a hosted server:

  • Fully Hosted:  You have no server in your main office. Everything is fully hosted on a cloud server.  This may provide some savings on server hardware and maintenance.  However, for small offices especially, there may be long-term cost disadvantages when compared to a NAS drive (with reasonable specifications) in the main office.  The users in the main office will usually suffer poorer performance speeds (especially if you do not have a high-speed optical fibre connection to the Internet), and their ability to work will obviously be seriously curtailed whenever you have an Internet outage.
  • Partially hosted (for remote users only):  With this architecture, there is a server in the main office for local users, and a cloud based server for remote users.  The hosted server has its own copy of the data, which is kept in synch with the data on your file server (or NAS drive) in your main office.  Remote users access the hosted server much the same as they would a Citrix server that was located in the head office. But for them, performance will probably be significantly better, because the hosted server usually will allow faster Internet access (unless you have high-speed fibre at your head office).  Users in your main office will continue to run the software on their local computers, accessing data from the file server (or NAS drive) in you main office.  You will need our Transfer Facility to synchronise the data in the hosted Citrix / Terminal server.