Advice on how schools can connect into their servers remotely

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1 Advice on how schools can connect into their servers remotely Steve Prentice Ian Gover elearning and Information Management Support Services for Education 1

2 Scenario You want to enable your staff to work remotely either on documents or on the school s network so that they can, for example access SIMS data from home. Scope There are various options and methods open to you. The level of your school s budget, the number of people that you want to have access, the type of access, technical resources and expertise for this project will determine which solution you go for. Options Your options within the scope above are to consider cloud based solutions just to access documents, access to SIMS online, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a remote control utility. External Tech Support companies might already be providing you with a solution and will give you good advice on how to implement solutions you do however have to ask the right questions. Cloud Based Solutions If you want staff just to access documents then you should consider using a secure cloud based solution such as Somerset Learning Platform (SLP) or within the OneDrive for Business offered as part of Office365. Many schools have their own cloud based solutions for storing and sharing documents especially within VLEs. In all cases solutions used should be designed for schools and not personal solutions such as Dropbox as there are issues around Data Security. Many of these solutions are offered at no extra cost. Access to SIMS online SIMs Learning Gateway offers a way into some aspects of the SIMS package for schools. The SIMs teacher App has also recently been introduced and details can be seen here: TeachApp. There will be additional costs in having these services. The elim MIS team will give you advice about either of these two solutions. Remote Desk Protocol (RDP) RDP stands for Remote Desktop Protocol (also sometimes referred to as Terminal Services). This would give you the ability to remotely access the school server seeing a virtual desktop using any software that is available to the school. When at home you could then connect from any device that supports RDP client software, such as a Windows PC, Apple MAC or various tablet PCs. The benefit of this type of system is that it allows multiple people in one go to access all of your school resources including network files and drives without downloading anything directly to your home PCs whilst all using a fairly small amount of your Internet bandwidth. It s a feature rich environment and can be well controlled and secured. However the system can be the most expensive option as it requires a dedicated server, software licences from Microsoft and support for installing it and looking after it. If you have external technician support you should get in contact with them. They will have packages that can supply this type of service. There may be additional costs which covers hardware, licences and software. There will be changes that need to be made to the network settings which may have to be completed by the school rather than the support company. 2

3 If you have internal technician support then they may well be able to set up this service having purchased the necessary hardware and software. If they feel uncomfortable in providing this service then there is no problem with contracting this out to a Technical Support company. Virtual Private Network (VPN) VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. You would install a hardware device in your school called a VPN concentrator which connects to your school Internet. You would then install a VPN software client on your work laptop, and take it home. You would use the VPN client on your laptop to connect to your school s VPN concentrator which creates a very secure link to your laptop and extends your school s network to it over the Internet. You would then use your work laptop as usual. This system is cheaper than the RDP solution above, and is very secure. However because you re not working on a remote view you would download all data that you re working with to your laptop which could be quite a high use for your Internet bandwidth when working with large files. For these reasons, according to your school policies, it would more than likely mean you can only use authorised work devices, and not your home PCs. Again either internal tech support, if they are able or an external tech support company would be able to supply you with a solution. Remote Control Utility The other end of the spectrum is the solution which requires you to buy a product which would allow you to leave your computer on in the school and connect to it remotely from your PC at home. When evaluating remote control utility solutions please remember that although some products offer a free home use license this does not cover use within education, and as such you will more than likely need to buy licences for the software. You should be aware that your school PC will need to be left on costing you money in power consumption and potentially shortening its life. It will need to be configured not to go to sleep otherwise you won t be able to connect to it. In many cases the web address used will need to be allowed through the schools filter. Remote Desktop Protocol (no cost alternative) For schools that have access to a suitable technical person, then there are free alternatives you could consider. The technical person could request some external IP addresses from SWGfL along with firewall changes to open up RDP ports. At that point a dedicated PC (one per IP address that you manage to obtain via your request) could be left turned on somewhere, with its Remote Desktop option enabled. That would allow someone to access the PC from home when using the correct IP address and username and password details. This would only be a suitable solution for a few people to use and is an alternative that may be appropriate for some smaller schools. Although this is seen as a no cost solution it does depend on the time and abilities of your tech support. If your school is a little larger then your technical person may be able to advise and install a Remote Desktop Gateway server to allow access to many more PCs in one go, however this will no longer be free and will require appropriate licencing and a server to run on, at which point you should reconsider the costed RDP option in this document. 3

4 Asking for changes to network of filter settings With many of these solutions changes may need to be made to the network allowing external computers through network security devices. Changes to the network will have to be made include will need to be made by the SWGfL helpdesk by logging a change request with their support desk. In some cases changes will be needed to the filtering system. Summary Consider these questions What are the learning (admin) gains you are trying to achieve? What do you want access to? Who do you want to have access? How much money have you got? What is the quality (and frequency) of your tech support? Work / life balance, VLEs, Cloud resourcing Documents, MIS, Software Pupils, All staff, some staff Over a thousand, limited, none Good, limited, poor Remote access can be achieved in all schools and in some cases at very little cost. If having read this document and if you want more information or help on how enable this at your school then get in touch with 4

5 Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Virtual Private Network (VPN) Remote Control Utility RDP (no cost solution) Connect remotely to schools Scale large to small Staff and learners Staff 2 or 3 staff 2 or 3 staff can use software from home large scale solution professional solution configured and supported by supplier or IT staff needs a server and licenses Expensive solution access to network drives most secure option additional hardware at school software download needed on laptops staff need laptop shares desktop remotely can use software from home relatively easy to use subscription per year needed needs 'always on' computer(s) uses personal computer 'no cost' other than support needs considerable technical support in school needs identified ip address on 'always on' computer(s) uses personal computer Cost large to small In all cases there will need to be configuration of the ports and firewalls on the internet connection. This will have to be completed in consultation with SWGfL 5

6 Cost large to small Scale large to small 6

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