SharePro : Work from Home

Times have changed. The order of the day is to stay at home and yet be productive. This is possible, and perhaps a necessity now. Many SharePro users have already migrated to the cloud and are enabling their users to sit at the comfort and safety of home and yet deliver productivity and continuity. This article presents a model work-from-home environment that can be adopted overnight. However, you must clearly understand that working from home does not necessarily require your servers to be shifted out of your office. The same thing can also be done by keeping your serves at office and creating a cloud-like environment in your office itself. However, that also means that you will require the ability to keep your servers at office powered-on, and therefore, if you need  freedom from even having to keep the office open, you need to shift your servers to the cloud (at a data-centre), or Purchase virtual servers from Cloud Service providers.

Typical SharePro Network Diagram
Before we start discussing how we can build a work from home environment, let us first understand a typical SharePro Network diagram.

SharePro - Network Diagram

That Network diagram is a handful. It consists of a few servers and a few computers which are used by your users to connect to the servers and perform their tasks. The servers and the client computers are all housed and located inside your office. Therefore, working-from-home will essentially mean moving the "Head Office Users on the Local Network" to their respective homes and allow them to connect to the servers at office using their domestic internet connection and work as if nothing changed.

Let us see how this can be done by looking at an alternative Network Diagram.

SharePro - Work from Home Network Diagram

Here is the network diagram for a work-from-home environment. It mixes and matches technologies and achieves the goal of making people work from home. We tried two methods as shown below :

Terminal Services Method (TSPlus): 

We added a new server in the network called TSPlus server (or Terminal Server). Then we did the following :

  • Installed a specialised software called TSPlus on this server.
  • Installed SharePro EXE
  • Created a windows user for each of the user of SharePro.
  • Configured TSPlus to allow each of the user to run SharePro. The configuration process is simple: We create shortcuts for applications and assign application(s) to users. The users can only run the applications that they are assigned.
  • Allowed outside users access to the TSPlus server by either assigning a static IP (like a phone number) or port-forwarding (talk to your IT).

To know more about TSPlus, please visit their website https://www.terminalserviceplus.com/.

There it is. A user at home can now connect to the TSPlus server by using the browser and start working on SharePro. See the snapshot below:

SharePro on Cloud

Notice that SharePro is working inside a tab in Chrome in the picture above. The user connects to the TSPlus server using its IP address or domain name, logs in with the given Windows User IDs and selects one of the applications assigned to him [in this case, SharePro] and starts working on it as if it was installed on his machine. Remember and understand that SharePro is actually running on the TSPlus server and all that the user actually sees is the screen images,

Application Launchers in TSPlus: TSPlus has another interesting feature using which we can create application launchers which can be dropped on the home computer's desktop. The launcher allows the user to run only applications assigned to him. When the user clicks on an application, it works as if the software was installed on the user's machine, whereas actually it is executed in the TSPlus server machine. See the snapshot below where a published application is run from the user's desktop launcher:

SharePro - Luncher on the Cloud

VPN Method: 

Another alternative which can be used (or mixed with the TSPlus method) is to setup a VPN server on the Database server. This can be done using opensource software like OpenVPN or SoftEther. Once setup, the home-user can make a virtual connection to the Database server and run SharePro from their local machine. In this scenario, the SharePro EXE is located in the local machine of the home-user, but the database is accessed from the server.

This requires specialised IT work and setup and recommended only for brokers with a specialised IT team. The configuration and scope of this setup is beyond the scope of this article.

What then is the Cloud?
Generally speaking, any computer or software that is used by you but is not installed in your local machine is said to be in the cloud. GMail is a good example of a cloud application - you install nothing. Similarly, you could place your computers in a datacenter and be on the cloud, or actually purchase a computer in a cloud-service-provider like GCP or AWS and be on the cloud.

To have a work-from-home environment, do I have to purchase servers from a cloud-service-provider?
No. You could setup your own office as a datacenter by the methods explained in the article and allow users to connect to your office and work on SharePro. However, this will mean that you should have the provision to keep your server switched-on and also own a good Internet connection. Therefore, when you purchase server(s) from a cloud-service-provider, neither do you need to switch on anything, nor do you need a powerful Internet connection at your office.

Ok, What type of an Internet connection should I have on my servers, whether in my office or outside?
An important thing to understand here is that an Internet connection has two kinds of bandwidth - Download bandwidth and Upload Bandwidth. The download bandwidth is important when you browse the internet or connect to a server. But a server needs to have a high upload bandwidth as most traffic goes out from the server.  You can measure your upload and download bandwidth using online tools like speedtest.net to google speed test.

Speedtest

A snapshot of Google Speedtest at StanSoft's Cloud Server. By the way, our internal systems work fully from the cloud since a long time now.

How much does TSPlus cost?
As of this writing, TSPlus System Edition, which should suffice for most brokers, with unlimited users costs about $950, but a 25-user license for $600 should be enough for most larger brokers.