A combination of connectivity methods makes the best solution

In my December column, I discussed how Windows 2000 Service Pack 1's (SP1's) Terminal Services Advanced Client (TSAC) provides remote users with Web-based terminal server access to network business-productivity applications. I mentioned that I've started using Win2K Server Terminal Services when I need to access bandwidth-hungry applications (e.g., my office-based accounting software) that RAS isn't capable of delivering over paltry modem lines. Recently, I went on a trip and had occasion to put this new remote access method to a real-world test.

Before I left town, I planned to use Win2K offline files and Microsoft Outlook with an offline folder enabled to synchronize email and files. However, on this trip, I had the opportunity to try a new trick: I could use Terminal Services to access my offline applications directly over the Internet. I wasn't sure how or when I might take advantage of this capability, but I felt more comfortable traveling knowing I had this connectivity option.

During the early part of my trip, I used DUN through a local ISP access number to connect to the Internet, then I used a PPTP VPN connection to access my network remotely. I used this connection method at least once a day to synchronize email and, when necessary, connect to the network terminal server to access business-productivity applications. I quickly discovered that Outlook's synchronization process is painfully slow. Unfortunately, the best RAS connection I could get was about 24Kbps. When I subtracted the overhead that PPTP imposed on my connection (the protocol used about 25 percent of the bandwidth), I wasn't left with much bandwidth. I was racking up serious connectivity charges for even short email-synchronization sessions.

I had a very hard time avoiding comparisons between the long Outlook synchronization sessions and the snappy connection to Outlook that I achieved through the terminal server. (Figure 1 shows a TSAC-based session running Win2K Professional and Outlook 2000.) Terminal server sessions over modem-based RAS links are surprisingly fast and smooth. As time went on, I found myself blowing off the Outlook synchronization process in favor of connecting to the terminal server and performing most of my crucial emailing online.

I know what you're thinking—using Outlook through the terminal server defeats the purpose of working offline. I came to the same conclusion, which is why my ultimate solution was to use a combination of these two remote access methods: I would connect to the terminal server and use Outlook to preview my email, respond to crucial messages that required quick replies, and access bandwidth-hungry applications. In addition, I'd determine whether to perform a full Outlook synchronization according to the contents of my Inbox. If I deemed a full-synchronization session was necessary, I could compose replies while I was offline to the messages that required longer responses.

The speed of the Terminal Services connection spoiled my patience for using offline synchronization in Outlook. Although I require speed for some of my work, I discovered that strategically using Terminal Services over my RAS connection and less frequently synchronizing with Outlook was the best remote access method for me.