One of the most popular ways for a road warrior to connect to the office network is via a VPN connection. In order to access your office network from the Internet using this method, two main elements are required – an internal system configured as a VPN “server” and the correct configuration settings on your laptop. Operating systems like Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 provide complete VPN server software capabilities built-in, but third-party VPN software solutions are also available for installation on operating systems ranging from Windows 95 to Windows XP.
If you’re running Windows XP or 2000 Professional at the office, both systems allow a single incoming VPN connection, which may be enough for your personal access to the network if your company doesn’t have a VPN server configured. One thing to keep in mind if you want to connect to your office via a VPN is that the office Internet connection will definitely need to be of the “always-on” variety – something like DSL or cable, since a dial-up connection won’t be accessible except in cases where it is actually connected.
Incoming VPN connections are enabled via the New Connection Wizard in the Network Connections program in Control Panel. From a Windows 2000 system, select the Accept Incoming Connections option from the wizard, and follow the instructions for allowing incoming VPN connections. For XP Professional, choose the Set up an advanced connection option, and then Accept Incoming Connections with the wizard. Once configured, use the New Connection Wizard from your laptop or work system to create a new outgoing VPN connection.
Connecting to your home system from a VPN client is handled in much the same manner as initiating any dial-up connection, except for the dial-up part. Instead, the client will form a secure tunnel into your office PC or VPN server over the Internet. Once connected, the client will obtain a private IP address in the range used on your office network, and can connect to other PCs in the same manner as any network client. For example, to access files on an office server, the remote PC will need to connect to existing shared folders on that server using a tool like My Network Places. Instead of providing a phone number when configuring the client side of a VPN connection, you’ll need to supply the correct IP address or hostname for your home system instead. For details on setting this up, see the stepped procedure below.
Step 1: Click Start, select Connect To, and then click Show all connections. In the Network Tasks section, click Create a new connection. At the Welcome screen, click Next. At the Network Connection Type screen, click Connect to the network at my workplace. Click Next.
Step 2: At the Network Connection screen, click Virtual Private Network connection, and click Next. At the Connection Name screen provide a suitable name like “Office VPN” and click Next. At the VPN Server Selection screen, type the IP address for the VPN server, usually the IP address of the office router/firewall. Click Next.
Step 3: Click Finish to complete the wizard. At the Connect screen, provide a username and password for the connection as provided by your network administrator, and then click the Connect button. Remember than your office firewall and VPN server must be correctly configured in order for the connection attempt to succeed.