Web based VPN option

October 5, 2006 at 12:02 pm 1 comment

I’ve posted about VPNs before, and I guess that the reason I keep coming back to them is because they’re often pretty tricky to get set up right. Particularly when you’re thinking of roaming laptops and things like that. So, when I saw this article pop into my RSS aggregator this morning, I got a warm fuzzy feeling.

SSL-Explorer is not your usual VPN in the sense that it doesn’t encrypt all types of network traffic to your remote network. Instead, it is a very well implemented set of encrypted services provided for through a web interface. In particular, it provides a neat method for browsing remote fileshares using the WebDAV protocol. This means that while you’re out of the office, you can open up a special web connection to your server and then start working on files that are available on the office network. Fortunately, most modern versions of Windows support WebDAV natively, which means that if you know the right URL, you can browse around the share just like any other share on your LAN. If you’re not using Windows, there are a multitude of WebDAV clients out there that will facilitate this on any other platform. For a lengthy demonstration of this method of sharing files, click here. Unfortunately the WebDAV stuff only gets illustrated toward the end of the video.

Other services provided by SSL-Explorer include HTTPS proxy services. These allow you to access internal web resources on your network. So, if your broadband router or your print server has a web interface, you can access these from outside your network. You can also set up tunnelled proxy services for external websites, although the value of this seems limited.

Finally, the enterprise edition includes a method to access internal email remotely through the VPN connection. But of course this comes at extra cost, and most mail servers can be configured to use SSL by default.
All in all, the SSL-Explorer doesn’t cut it as a VPN. If you want to run a particular network application remotely, like Filemaker, you’re not going to get too far. Overall, none of the services provided by SSL-Explorer are new, and it is possible to configure each of these services independently. But if you’re looking for a simple way to set up all of this stuff in a snap, this looks like the route to take. End-users should have no problem understanding what they are doing when working with files remotely, and the reverse proxy feature could come in handy for the admin working from home.

On the whole, I was disappointed to see these services marketed as a VPN solution, because certainly this is a far cry from the real thing. But the implementation is very slick, and I can see this as an obvious option for a large number of users out there.

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