As a techie, I often need to connect to a variety of computers to accomplish my work. But as a small business owner, I enjoy the freedom to do my work from wherever I choose. How can you accomplish both? Remote connections! Through a variety of technologies, I am able to access the resources necessary to do my job from anywhere around the globe.
The simplest means to remotely connect to a computer is through Secure Shell – better known as SSH. SSH is a secure replacement for the much older (and insecure) telnet protocol. SSH uses public-key cryptography, so you can setup keys to connect to your server instead of a password. This makes connecting easier and more secure. SSH is a text-only connection type and is particularly well-suited for Linux machines. However, while SSH is a great tool for controlling a Linux server remotely, it doesn’t allow you to use resources on that server (or network) from your local machine. For example, if the remote server runs a website, you won’t be able to access that site via SSH.
While SSH won’t allow you to access remote resources directly, you can turn options for tunneling. Tunneling will map local ports to remote ports so that your local computer can access resources on a remote computer. For example, if your remote server runs a MySQL server, you can setup an SSH tunnel to forward localhost:3306 to remotehost:3306. Then, you can setup your MySQL client to connect via your local machine. The SSH tunnel will then forward your requests to the local machine. I heavily use this technology for web sites on my development build server. For example, I run a Jenkins server on port 8080. I can SSH into my machine and create a tunnel to port 8080. This allows me to view my Jenkins web server from anywhere. I even have an Android application (JuiceSSH) that allows me to setup SSH tunneling from my phone. So, when I need to control a Jenkins build on the road, I connect via JuiceSSH and make the necessary changes.
Sometimes, a tunnel just isn’t enough. Maybe you need your computer appear to be on another network. Running my own business, I have some clients who allow me to access their systems – but they require me to connect from my office IP address. Since I like to travel – or work from home – I need a way to remotely connect to my network. A VPN is the perfect solution. I can access everything on my network, and I appear to be on that network by other systems. Unfortunately, a VPN is a little more complicated to setup. OpenVPN software is available to setup a server, but I have found it more difficult to setup than I would like. (When I did get it setup, I found it frequently locked up on my Linux server too.) So, I decided to buy a Netgear Nighthawk router. Their embedded VPN works great from Android, Mac, iOS, and Windows.
An added bonus of a VPN is that it can be used to secure your connection when you are using a public WiFi connection. Additionally, since you will appear to be at a particular IP address, you can access services that are only available from your geographical area. For example, web-based TV programs only available to users within a specific geographical area.
The ability to remotely access resources means you can work from any location in the world. You don’t need to be at your office. You can even access your home computer from work or from your phone. If you’re looking for an easy way to connect, look at SSH – it’s a simple and very effective way to access remote computers!