Tech Docs: Multiple Locations, Remote Use

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Using Facil From Multiple and/or Remote Locations

You may want to use Facil from a computer that is not in the same location as the rest of your computers and, more importantly, not in the same location as the Facil data file.  This document discusses the architecture of Facil, licensing, and technical issues for remote use.

Architecture: The Program and the Data File

The Facil system is in two parts: The program file (Facil.mde) and the data file (FacílData.mdb).  In a single user installation, the data file is generally stored in the same directory as the program file.  In a multi-user installation, the data file can be located anywhere on a network, as long as the workstations running the program have a network connection to the computer storing the data and the users of the workstations have permission to access that storage location.

When the Facil program uses the data, the information is transferred from the data file to the program, processed and, if changed, rewritten to the data file.  Only the minimum amount of data necessary is transferred and when working with individual records this amount is quite small.  When reporting or using the "viewers" to query the data, a larger amount of data needs to be transferred across the network to the workstation.  In general, given adequate workstations, network speed, and file server capacity, performance is not an issue.

Multiple Locations and the Multi-User License

The intent of the Facil multi-user license is to allow all the users in your organization to install and use Facil.  We also recognize that some access centers have satellite locations with multiple studios or equipment checkout locations.  It is allowed, under a Facil multi-user license, to have these satellite locations use Facil and share the single Facil database file stored in a central location.  It is not allowed, however, for an organization to use a single Facil license to establish multiple database files in separate locations for their independent use.

This distinction is made simple by considering the Facil data - only one set of data (one data file) is allowed for each Facil license - single user or multi-user.  If several locations share the same set of persons, equipment, reservations, program library, etc., they may all share their single Facil data file regardless of where they are physically located.  Centers with separate operations, reserving independent sets of equipment and maintaining separate records of equipment, reservations, programs, etc. must purchase a Facil license for each set of data, even though they may be considered part of a larger parent organization, and even though the separate centers may be connected to a larger organizational network and use the same physical data storage server.

Local vs. Wide Area Networks

Local area networks (LAN) are generally thought of as networks within one building, but any network that uses direct Ethernet wiring and hubs is technically a LAN.  A LAN might encompass wiring distances up to a mile. 

A LAN usually transfers at least 10 million bits of data (megabits) per second.  Newer LANs run at 100, or even 1000, megabits per second, giving very good Facil performance with even the largest amounts of data.  Speed on a wide area network (WAN) may be anywhere from 5 megabits per second (cable modems) to as little as .005 megabits (28,000 bits) per second on a phone line.  Other WAN technologies (T1, frame relay) fall between these extremes.  While a WAN is typically set up specifically for use between multiple locations of the same organization, it is also possible to implement a WAN using connections across the Internet.  This would be the quickest and cheapest solution, especially if the locations are at great distances, but it is subject to all the performance variations and instability of the public Internet.

Performance on a high speed WAN can still be satisfactory at about half the speed of a slower LAN, but a dial up connection will almost certainly make Facil unusable.

If you are fortunate enough to have a high speed WAN connecting your remote locations to your central location where the Facil data is stored, then the workstations at the remote sites are technically no different than those in your central location.  The Facil installation is the same and the operation of the program is the same within the performance constraints of the WAN speed.

The Remote Control Solution

But for most remote users, connecting to the central location means a greatly reduced connection speed and while this may be satisfactory for some uses that don't transfer much data (such as email or transferring word processing documents), it is problematic for a multi-user database like Facil.

There is a solution designed specifically for this situation - remote control software, also known as remote access.  This is a program which is installed on two computers and allows one computer to remotely control the other.  There are many such programs available including some web based services.  One excellent commercial system for remote control is TeamViewer.  This very expensive program is made available for free to non-commercial users!  Visit www.teamviewer.com to get the program.  Also, many versions of the Windows operating system have a built-in capability for remote control without any additional software.  Visit these links for information on remote control using Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7.

When using remote control software, your controlling computer at the remote location connects to a "host" computer at your central location by dialing a modem connected to the host, through a WAN to which both computers are attached, or through the Internet when both computers are connected to the Internet.  You are actually using your keyboard, mouse, and display to control the "host" computer just as though you were sitting at it.  You might think of the remote control connection as a really long keyboard and display cable - only the keystrokes you send and the displays generated by the host computer need to be transferred across the distant connection. 

The remote control solution can provide satisfactory results even over a very slow connection; all the heavy data movement is between the host computer and the file server over that LAN at your central location.  The only drawback - a computer must be set up as a host and be kept available to receive your connection; it cannot be used for anything else while it is acting as a remote control host.  But even if you purchase an additional computer just to be your host for remote control, you need only spend $400 or so - compared to many thousands to establish and maintain a high speed WAN.   The remote control solution has the additional advantage of being accessible from anywhere you have a computer with an Internet connection and the remote control software installed.  One remote control host can service several distant locations that take turns connecting to the host.

 

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