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Setting up mobile workers on the local office network

I have a medium size Grain Transporting business in Wagga Wagga and I would like to be able to setup mobile workers on the local office network.

Currently I have 25 staff working directly out of the office and the computers are connected by category 5 UTP cable and hub and we are running windows 2000 server.

I also have five salesmen who have laptop computers but currently I cannot get them on the network. Some one has said that wireless networking is what I need to get the laptops on the network easily. I only want the current laptops on the wireless network right now.

Could you please tell me what equipment I will need in order to set this up? And the cost for the equipment? Are there any known problems that there are with this type of network and is there anything you feel is relevant to this project?

In the past, connecting travelers would have meant installing a dial-up Remote Access Server with five modems that your salesforce could call while on the road. Today, a less expensive, more convenient and more flexible solution is to install a Remote Access VPN gateway that your salesforce can reach over any Internet connection.

With a VPN, travelers access the Internet by dialing into any local ISP, connecting to Ethernet at hotels or customer sites, using wireless LAN hotspots or subscribing to a cellular data service. Once connected, travelers "tunnel" across the Internet to your VPN gateway. The gateway verifies user identity, making sure that nobody else can get into your network. The "tunnel" protects traffic crossing the Internet so that nobody can modify, replay or eavesdrop on data sent or received.

In general, there are three steps to creating a remote access VPN.

  1. Install a VPN Gateway: Your Win 2000 Server can be configured to be your VPN gateway, or you can purchase a VPN/firewall appliance from LinkSys, SonicWALL, WatchGuard, etc. This device will be exposed to the Internet, so it must be hardened against attack. If your Win 2000 Server is a mission critical application server, I recommend installing a separate VPN/firewall appliance, dedicated to secure remote access.
  2. Prepare VPN Clients: The laptops used by your sales team must be outfitted with VPN client software. If those laptops are running Win 2000, they already have PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN clients ? but make sure that your VPN gateway is compatible with native Win 2000 clients. Each will have to be configured to match your VPN gateway's configuration.
  3. Connect to the Internet: Most laptops have built-in v.90, Ethernet or 802.11b support, or can be equipped with these PC cards. You may want to start with dial-up, upgrading to wireless as needed for faster/broader connectivity. Dial-up can be accessed anyplace there is a telephone jack. 802.11b wireless can be accessed from a growing number of hotels, airports and Internet cafes. If your sales team must stay connected while in motion, consider a "3G" cellular data service. These vary in terms of cost, availability and speed. To learn more, check out iPass, Boingo, T-Mobile and Sprint PCS (to name just a few.)

An entry-level VPN/firewall will run a few hundred dollars. Using native Win 2000 clients avoids purchasing client software. 802.11 PC cards are well under $100; cellular data cards start around $200. After setup, your biggest expense will be the recurring cost of Internet access - prices vary widely, but plans range from flat-rate monthly to a metered fee per hour or MB of data. You can get a feel for usage by starting with inexpensive unlimited-access dial before moving to more expensive metered wireless access.

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