Today, the increasing reliance on software by so many companies has emphasized the value of IT support for business. It allows you to be more focused on performing the primary tasks of your business using advanced and modern technology without requiring any deeper understanding of the underlying processes.

As such, your main goal is to do everything as perfectly as you can in the service of your business, and the task of IT support is to make sure you don’t experience any obstacles along the way.

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we are all adapting to new ways of working. However, many companies are trying to maintain the same pace and commitment to daily tasks so they have decided to work remotely leading to new challenges for IT Support staff. Most of my tasks, for example, require immediate action and can easily be resolved with access to a computer and face-to-face communication with colleagues. So how does it feel to work remotely as an IT technician of a company that has 100+ employees? 

The Benefits and Limitations of Remote IT Support

The first benefit of IT Support on the spot is that you are always available when there is an issue. There is no need to wait for a technician to arrive at the location and waste extra time. The second benefit is interaction with the person experiencing an issue. You can get to the core of the problem much faster. For example, if the user’s computer is protected with a password you can ask that person to type it in so you can access it. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, you have to be careful. You have to take all precautions when interacting with others, especially with concern to your health and theirs.

This is where remote IT support comes in handy. You can access computers using remote control desktop software to diagnose the problem. Having remote IT support can help your business remove itself from the stress of technology issues, and stay focused on your plans. 

However, there are also limitations to remote IT support. For those who value face to face interactions, remote IT itself is a limitation. It is easier to diagnose the problem, understand it and try different approaches to resolve it while working onsite. The more time a technician spends at a location will result in better solutions and long term stability. A remote IT technician is limited to resolving issues that affect network connectivity. If a laptop cannot connect to the Internet or fails to boot entirely, a remote technician will not be able to access it. It’s the same with physical damage, power supply issues, or virus attacks. Basically, you can never entirely work from home if you are an IT Technician. So let’s just call it semi-remote work.

When you work as onsite IT support you can diagnose and resolve a higher number of technical issues with ease. You can also handle issues that affect network connectivity or physical damage to a system, such as hard-drive failure or replacing the battery of a laptop. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a virtual private network that connects two or more devices via an encrypted tunnel. There are two main VPN connection types:  Site to Site and Remote Access. Both can be classified under VPN and they use the same computing infrastructure, but there is still a difference.

Site to Site VPN is used to connect two local area networks (LANs), and they are usually utilized by businesses that want to provide their employees or business partners secure access to network resources. 

Remote Access VPN is used to connect a personal user device to a remote server on a private network. Once a remote access VPN is connected, a user’s internet activity will go through the encrypted VPN tunnel to the remote server and access the internet from that remote server. That means that the internet website or application sees the remote server’s IP address instead of your personal device’s IP address – which provides a layer of privacy. This way remote workers can access secure resources on their company’s LAN as though they were plugged into the LAN.

To connect via a remote access VPN you have to set up a NAT (Network Address Translation), or VPN gateway, to authenticate the credentials of any device attempting to sign in to the VPN. It’s actually the NAT that connects you. Once the tunnel is created, all data that you send from this device is encapsulated and encrypted by your remote access VPN, and then sent to the gateway that sits just outside the remote LAN. The VPN gateway then decrypts your traffic and relays the data to the LAN.

Traffic sent through the virtual tunnel is secured, and traffic you receive from the local network travels through this tunnel in reverse and is secured. The VPN gateway encrypts the incoming traffic which is then received by your VPN client. 

Choosing between a VPN depends entirely on your needs. A remote-access VPN allows a device to securely communicate with your company’s private LAN no matter where in the world the device or the LAN may be. A site-to-site VPN, however, securely bridges your various LANs, no matter where they are,  to allow employees at all LAN locations secure access to the resources of the complete network. 

Most popular/Best Practice

There are a few uses of remote desktop software. You can handle complicated tasks from a laptop by connecting remotely to a more powerful computer.  IT support regularly uses remote access programs to control a client’s computer and deal with any issues. Choosing the best remote desktop software will equip you with the tools needed to access and manage one or more computers from another device.  

Using these tools can be very simple, but sometimes challenging if you are using more encrypting methods of securing traffic like port forwarding. You will usually have to install the software on the computer or other devices you want to access remotely. 

Choosing the best tool for remote connection depends on what it will be used for. For personnel use, I recommend tools that do not provide the most secure traffic flow but are easy to use like TeamViewer or LogMeIn. To set up TeamViewer all you need is to install the software on your computer and the computer you want to log in to. Next, you need a partner ID and password that they provide you with – and that’s it! Softwares like TeamViewer or LogMeIn use third-party servers. This is due to the fact that the software that you installed on the remote machine initiates an outgoing request to the Teamviewer servers. Since this client initiated the request, no port forwarding on the Firewall is required. They use port 80 – Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

For more secure remote connections you can use software like Microsoft Remote Desktop and enable port forwarding. This is good if you want to access remote devices from your private (home) network over the public network. Port forwarding will tell the router where to send certain traffic that comes from outside the network. You have to tell the router that any traffic that comes to port 3389 (Remote Desktop Port) goes to one specific computer, the one we first configured. 

Common IT Remote Issues during Coronavirus.

From the perspective of an IT Technician and subjectively considering how much easier it is to resolve problems onsite, remote work during the time of COVID-19 has its difficulties. For other members of the team, a laptop, power supply, internet connection, and coffee will do the job, but when a problem arises, how can you add a Technician into the picture?

When we talk about the usual daily issues such as updating systems, reinstalling software, or locked access, I can easily diagnose and resolve problems. However, most of the complicated tasks demand an onsite approach. For example, if you diagnose an issue as unfixable and mature for repair, one must physically take the laptop and deliver it to get serviced.  

Nevertheless, if you satisfy a high level of good and quality communication with your coworkers, you are one step closer to resolving the main issue. That is why I always aim to achieve good communication by asking the right questions which will ensure that I get the best results. It is highly important to decipher which questions are relevant and to make sure you don’t get lost in all the information you’re being given. 

While providing guidelines to users on how they will repair their issues, it is necessary to make them understandable and use all the available tools to deliver them as simply as possible – such as screenshots. 

Oh and don’t forget every technician’s favorite advice: first try the Restart option! 

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