In-Depth

Remote Tools that Can Help You Save Gas

Besides carpooling and riding a bicycle to work, using the right software can keep some gas money in your pocket.

There was a book published last year entitled "Muzzle the Guzzle: 50 Fuel Saving Strategies" (I-Form Ink Publishing, 2007) containing 50 gas-saving tips and tricks intended to save you money on gas -- something we sorely need right now. In chatting with various network administrators and consultants who drive to work, it appears that many are also taking whatever measures they can to save a little money.

Graciously, a few of these IT professionals, each with a different circumstance, have decided to share some of their own tricks that could help you keep some of that gas money in your pocket.

Jake Owns a Hummer2
Jake is a network admin who travels to work in his gas-guzzling H2. He personally visits branch offices that house remote servers. What steps can Jake take to avoid excess travel? We asked Tim Duggan -- the lead network admin for Solution 32, whose clientele base spans New York's Tri-State area -- what he does to avoid sitting in traffic and wasting fuel. His answer was all about LogMeIn Inc.

LogMeIn, based in Woburn, Mass., offers a variety of different tools, but its most popular ones have to do with remote access and remote management.

"We use LogMeIn pretty extensively," Duggan says. "Not only can we take control of a server, but it allows us to have system alerts set up, and we're able to check on events and other things without taking control."

This is a sound solution for cutting down on the need to drive. You still may have to make the daily trek to your local office, but when a problem comes up at a branch office you have the option of eliminating a potentially long drive. And of course you have the option to get things done from your home office.

LogMeIn isn't the only remote-management software on the market. There are hosted services, such as WebEx Communications' PCNow and GoToMyPC, as well as dedicated software solutions involving virtual private networks (VPNs). You may also want to consider something free that comes built into most higher-end Windows systems called Remote Desktop. This feature can be found in Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista Business, Ultimate and Enterprise Editions. The key is to make sure the port for the Remote Desktop connection (TCP Port 3389) is open on the firewall, which may be an issue depending on your environment. On the more expensive side is Symantec's pcAnywhere, which has the ability to access Windows, Linux and Mac systems for those of you who require cross-platform connectivity.

Olsen the Family Man Owns a Minivan
Let's take the case of Olsen the family man, who needs a minivan for his family but also uses the van for his business. Olsen is a consultant who has to travel to see his clients, so remote connectivity isn't going to help him. He has all sorts of network equipment and hardware that he must take with him, so we aren't going to make a commuter out of him. But there is technology available that can help his situation, too.

In early June 2008, new software was released by bMobile Technology called bMobileRouteManager. It's designed to help small and midsize wholesale distribution companies and has a focus on the consumer packaged-goods industry. The new feature, called RouteMizer, uses gas-saving route optimization.

RouteMizer helps Olsen streamline his travels. I started thinking, "What other software exists for the everyday admin to use that can save him gas?"

I found a GPS that shows the driver how much CO2 emissions are saved by taking a particular route, as well as how much fuel would be saved. Crambo SA, the Spanish company that makes the Econav device, says its product can save you 15 percent to 30 percent in fuel and reduction of CO2 emissions. That sounds promising. In fact, having a GPS in general could save you gas by taking you to unfamiliar locations without you getting lost. Some GPS systems help you find the fastest route, or at least the one with the least amount of traffic.

Leela Loves the Outdoors and Drives an SUV
Leela's not getting closer to the city -- she's moving further away from it. She has decided that a good way to save money on gas is to work from home one or two days a week. To accomplish this requires setting up a home office that puts at her disposal all the tools she typically uses at work.

Leela knows that when she travels abroad, one of the tools her team uses to collaborate anywhere at any time is Microsoft's Groove 2007. The benefit of Groove is that the data is encrypted and secure on users' systems. So, even in transit, mobile users who need to collaborate with each other know that the data they need resides on a Microsoft server, waiting for them to check in and download the latest discussion and file changes. The material is encrypted with only you and your team having the ability to decrypt. It also provides back-end connectivity to a SharePoint library that's configured at work.

Tip

Are you using your computer to find the lowest gas prices around? Make sure you search by ZIP code or state on sites such as GasBuddy.com or GasPriceWatch.com to locate cheaper gas prices. If you're on the road, try sending a text message or e-mail to GasBuddyToGo.com with your city, state and ZIP for the five lowest-cost gas locations nearest you.

One of the important tools Leela uses that requires full-strength encryption and security is e-mail. She is trying out e-Capsule Private Mail HD from EISST Ltd. This tool is designed to ensure that her e-mail data is always encrypted using ciphers (AES256 and RSA2048). It also fortifies her e-mail against viruses.

However, she may need a home anti-virus solution, too. Conveniently, there's a wide range of choices available. AVG Technologies CZ, for instance, offers both a basic version for free and a full version at a reasonable cost. There are also offerings from McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc., Symantec Corp., Panda Software International S.L., ESET LLC, Kaspersky Lab, PCSecurityShield, BitDefender LLC and CA Inc. The anti-virus products from these companies come with different prices and features, but PCSecurityShield's Shield Deluxe is on the lower end price-wise and has some of the highest ratings in terms of performance.

Caleb the Commuter Loves the Train
While he loves taking the train because it saves gas overall -- and keeps him out of aggravating traffic jams -- Caleb is part of an open-ended support team for a large investment banking firm. He may work in one building, but he never knows where in that building he'll be, what branch of the company he'll be supporting or what kind of system he'll be dealing with. So rather than lugging a laptop back and forth to work each day, he has decided to carry tools on his USB keychain.

Caleb went out and picked up a new 8GB IronKey USB drive, which company officials boast has a secure flash drive. Pre-loaded with portable Firefox, Ironkey Password Manager, RSA SecurID and a Secure Sessions service, IronKey is designed to destroy its own data if someone attempts to crack it 10 times.

Caleb loads up the USB keychain with tools he needs on his job, including standard administration tools, drivers for systems, ISO files for re-installs and MagicDisc to be able to access those ISO files.

Ronald Barrett, a network admin who consults throughout the New Jersey area and is the president of technology consulting firm R.A.R.E.-Tech, recommends a few tools that he carries on a USB keychain, including ClamWin Free Antivirus portable and OpenOffice.org Portable. ClamWin, from PortableApps.com, is a free anti-virus solution you can carry with you anywhere. It ensures you can sit down at any system and have it be virus free. OpenOffice.org Portable, which is compatible with Office, WordPerfect and Lotus files, is suitable for situations where you don't have your laptop, you're working at a client site that doesn't have the latest version of Office, and you need to open an office document.

Barrett says: "For an IT pro who needs to be ready for all situations, or the technology partner who needs to support anything that exists in IT, OpenOffice.org Portable is the perfect portable application."

Chris Rides His Fuji Reveal 2.0 Mountain Bike to Work
Chris has traded in his vehicle for a good, old-fashioned two-wheeler -- in this case, a mountain bike. This is yet another way to save gas as well as improve one's health. Chris works for a company in Colorado that provides desktop and server support for people all over the world. He has to be prepared at a moment's notice -- whether he's at home, at work or visiting others -- to answer questions about any number of system types.

Because he needs to have all his systems at his disposal no matter where he goes, Chris has put together what he believes is the perfect solution. Using VMware Workstation, he has created a system that allows him to carry around all his applications and documents on a pocket USB 80GB drive. Also, he has created every form of server configuration he works with -- SQL, Exchange and SharePoint -- and every form of desktop he supports, including Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Red Hat Linux. Wherever he goes, he plugs in and installs VMware Player and is ready to work.

Part Tools, Part Attitude
Saving gas and the environment can only be done with technology if the user of that technology possesses the right attitude. You have to be consciously thinking about ways to drive less and use technology that saves you time and distance. No doubt there are other solutions and scenarios that you might be thinking of beyond what we presented here. With a little market research and imagination, it isn't difficult to find the right remote-management technology to help you save money and, maybe, the planet.

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