Gartner Recommends Hardware-Based RAS Solutions

More and more vendors are coming to market with software-based remote access solutions. In some cases, hardware manufacturers are shipping preinstalled remote access software, such as Windows NT RAS, with servers designed specifically to be used as RAS servers.

"Microsoft is putting a lot of energy into this market," says John Girard, vice president and research director, at GartnerGroup, (www.gartner.com), a market analysis firm. "And it takes a company with the clout of Microsoft to survive in this market."

Although the number of software-based RAS servers is increasing, GartnerGroup believes the actual use of the products will not follow suit.

"The use of software RAS as a percentage will decrease, rather than increase, over the next few years," says Neil MacDonald, research director at GartnerGroup.

The biggest problem with software solutions is a dependence on the operating system on which they run. When a RAS solution is actually built into an operating system, as is the case with NT RAS, the RAS is subject to all the hotfixes, patches, problems and incremental updates as the operating system. This is more involved than just the Service Pack 3 and Service Pack 4 updates; it also includes all the little fixes released on a weekly basis.

"The scalability and reliability of remote access are dependent on the quality of the platform they run on," MacDonald says. "What we recommend is don’t use a software RAS, we recommend dedicated hardware-based solutions."

In his criticisms of software-based solutions, MacDonald states that the lifecycle of a software solution is only about three years, while hardware solutions promise to last five years, minimum. Also, Windows NT 4.0 is general purpose, and therefore not optimized for RAS functionality. This leaves certain weaknesses in its RAS capabilities, such as security and manageability. In addition, GartnerGroup claims that the cost, effort and complexity of diagnostics and support will be higher than with integrated systems.

Geoff Kann, marketing communications manager of USWest’s Business Enterprise Solutions division, which provides remote access solutions for enterprises, believes otherwise. "There is a place for both hardware and software in remote access environments," he says. "Software-based solutions, and NT RAS in particular, are getting much better, and they are only going to get better over time."

Microsoft is working to accommodate viewpoints such as Kann’s. When Windows 2000 ships, it will have a number of features that enhance remote access. The most important will be IntelliMirror replication technology. Other enhancements include support for L2TP -- which is the next generation of PPTP -- Encrypted File System, Zero Administration for Windows linkage to Active Directory and power management API’s.

Despite the improvements, MacDonald remains skeptical. "The issues with software RAS solutions are not going to completely go away with [Windows 2000]," he explains.

GartnerGroup’s recommendation of a hardware-based solution applies to any operating system and server platform. "Whether it’s NT, NetWare or Linux, you’re subject to all the fixes, patches, problems, and a single point of failure," MacDonald adds.