Friday, February 2, 2007

Any Port in a Storm

Home networking is a bit of a pain for the extreme telecommuter, and some people think that Real Office IT should be concerned with what's going on on my network. And this is probably true. I run a ton of stuff through my little Comcast connection, and it definitely feels the strain. When I am yakking on my VoIP phone, running a teleconference, maybe sharing some application with my meeting participants over GoToMeeting, I find that my bandwidth is maxxed out. And then my poor husband tries to watch some CNN video -- and things are bad.

Aside from the sage advice, "Well, shouldn't your husband be at work? Keep him off the network, fool," what else should IT be helping me with? Configuring and securing the wireless router was a pain, and even the basics of getting the correct ports open on the VoIP router so that I could put my videoconference and other applications through it correctly was a pretty big job. Then there was the process of negotiating with the institutional fire wall folks to get the pathways opened on the other end so that all this connectivity could connect to something that I actually need to work. Fortunately, I'm a pseudo-IT person (in that I'm aware that there are ports and that they can be open or closed), but for a less-nerdy home worker dealing with that part of the equation would be a bit of a problem.

In fact, this is a major barrier to rolling out these technologies to more of our users -- the complexity of dealing with a variety of home connectivity configurations, the fact that much of our network (even within our own department) is managed by other people who might have less of a customer service-focus than you might expect, and then the subtle trickiness of getting the webcam, videoconferencing, remote desktop access, VPN, and all the rest working happily together. We're working on it, but it seems that each rig we set up is slightly different and we hit new problems, making it difficult to publish a cogent user's guide that could step the moderately clueless through the process.


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