The Network is the Computer (but not everyone’s)

Working at home a day or so a week has been a great convenience, but it looks like my days are numbered… at least if I want to keep using my Mac.

The current Cisco VPN client apparently doesn’t work with OSX 10.4, so I won’t be able to connect to the office from home that way if I decide to install my shiny new upgrade when it arrives next week– and let’s face it, it’s going to be hard to resist 🙂 Rumours abound too that the OSX version is about to be EOL’d anyway, so who knows how well it’ll ever work post-Panther.

Normally I’m running Linux on my Mac when I’m working anyway, so no problem you’d think– except there’s no PowerPC version of the Cisco VPN client, and today we’ve been told that we’re no longer allowed to use the open source vpnc client either, as a security audit has determined the current version to be too insecure.

Even if there was a way around those issues, Sun is taking SOX compliance rather seriously, and in the not too distant future, full remote access will be restricted to employees with centrally-managed workstations running Java Desktop System, with a Java card reader for authentication. If you think this sounds a lot like SunRay@Home, you’d probably be right 🙂 The rest of us will be restricted to accessing so-called ‘edge services’ like mail and calendar from our evil non-JDS boxes.

While SunRay is one of the coolest technologies going, and being able to control who does what with your infrastructure is a must, I’m not convinced that everyone who currently works at home is going to be well-served by this one-size-fits-all approach, or that the world is going to be a safer place as a result. It’s a perfect solution for VPs, managers and salesfolk, who have a SunRay on their desk whose session they can then tap into wherever they go. But I fear that engineers (and Sun does have the odd one or two, so I’m told) with their three or four standalone workstations per desk, and designers with the need for something a little more powerful than GIMP and StarOffice Draw, are going to find it a lot harder to get their job done in the comfort of their own home.

But there’s a way to go before all that happens, and I live in hope… Sun prides itself on the number of its employees who have the opportunity to work remotely. If anyone can find a way to securely connect together a bunch of differently-flavoured *nix machines1 across the internet without limiting their functionality to that of an internet café, you would think it might be us 🙂

1Ignoring the fact that some folk will probably want to connect Windows machines as well, but since they represent the largest part of the problem, I’d have no issue with them being banned from connecting remotely at all…