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i need to be able to access a customer's SQL Server, and ideally their entire LAN, remotely.

They have a firewall/router, but the guy responsible for it is unwilling to open ports for SQL Server, and is unable to support PPTP forwarding.

The admin did open VNC, on a non-stanrdard port, but since they have a dynamic IP it is difficult to find them all the time.

In the past i have created a VPN connection that connects back to our network. But that didn't work so well, since when i need access i have to ask the computer-phobic users to double-click the icon and press Connect

i did try creating a scheduled task that attempts to keep the VPN connection back to our office up at all times by running:

>rasdial "vpn to name" username password

But after a few months the VPN connection went insane, and thought it was both, and neither, connected an disconnected; and the vpn connection wouldn't work again until the server was rebooted.

Can anyone think of a way where i can access the customer's LAN that doesn't involve

  • opening ports on the router
  • needing to know their external IP
  • customer interaction of any kind

Blah blah blah

  • use vpn
  • vnc protocol has known weaknesses
  • you are unwise to lower your defenses
  • it's not wise to expose SQL Server directly to the internet
  • you stole that line from Empire

Customer doesn't care about any of that. Customer wants things to work.

Update 5/2/2011

Customer called this morning with things not working. This massive internet where everyone in the world is connected to each other - tet i can't administer a server 25 minutes away.

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If you can't successfully walk a person through a GoToMeeting, Logmein Rescue, or Co-Pilot session, then perhaps you're not cut out for this line of work. –  gravyface May 5 '11 at 2:49

5 Answers 5

Have them use a dynamic DNS service, and then connect to that DNS name via VNC.

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Tried that. But for various reasons, various dyndns update programs get stuck, or stalled, or fail, or lose their credentials, or the account has gotten disabled. These are all solvable problems; but when the customer calls for the first time in 6 months i can't be trying to debug why their dyndns isn't updating, or why their WinVNC service isn't running, or isn't accepting connections (especially since i can't connect to the machine to diagnose it, and they know nothing about computers) –  Ian Boyd Jun 8 '10 at 11:18
    
But if this happens because the customer is calling you, why do you have a requirement of "no customer interaction of any kind" ? You've got them on the phone, you could tell them "Please do X so that I may troubleshoot this remotely." How far are you from this client? You know that F2F time is good customer service, especially if it's 6 months between visits. –  mfinni Jun 8 '10 at 13:50
    
It's not "no customer interaction", it's "customer does not have to do anything to let me gain access". If they have to browse to browse to a web-site, enter a url in ie, find a program on the start menu or click an icon on the desktop: we're reaching the limit of their capabilities. If them calling me on the phone were enough to make remote access happen - i'd be golden. About 15 minutes away. –  Ian Boyd Jun 16 '10 at 2:25
    
Customer called again today. The dns name isn't resolving. Further evidence that dynamic DNS isn't a good solution. –  Ian Boyd May 2 '11 at 13:10
    
It's been almost a year since this suggestion. Why isn't the DNS name resolving? It's not like DNS is some crazy bleeding-edge technology. If the infrastructure is unreliable, then you're always going to be having problems with any remote-access solution, period. –  mfinni May 2 '11 at 13:44

Fog Creek Copilot offers a one-click connect service which is based on VNC (IIRC) and is fairly inexpensive and requires no user interaction on the remote side once it's installed and configured (and the connection confirmation is disabled). Requires no firewall changes on their network.

If the basic VNC connection works fine for you, install a dynamic DNS client on the server and have it update a static hostname which you can use to connect as long as a port is opened (as you've indicated).

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i've used copilot, a lot. It requires them to browse to a web-site, click a link, run a program, and enter a number. You'd be surprised how hard that can be for some users. (i much prefer copilot over glance, though) –  Ian Boyd Jun 8 '10 at 11:19
    
i once spent 10 minutes on the phone trying to talk a customer through copilot. ("In the address bar", "The bar at the top", "What do you see?", "No, those are google search results, you typed it in the google toolbar. Type it in the address bar." "The bar at the top" "Try hitting Alt+D" "No, those are google search results again. You have to put it in the address bar." "Okay, try this. Click the file menu, and select Open" "Oh, hmmm. Try pressing the Alt key" "No, just the alt key, then release it, the file menu should appear." "No, just once" "Then open" "Which version of Windows are yo..." –  Ian Boyd Jun 8 '10 at 11:26
    
(see what i'm saying?) –  Ian Boyd Jun 8 '10 at 11:26
    
Yes, I've felt the pain. The OneClick service is slightly different though. Once it's installed the client just stays running and you can connect any time without further intervention or action from the user on the remote side. –  Justin Scott Jun 8 '10 at 14:06
    
Link to this OneClick application? On the downside, it could be possible that this (indeed any program) might fail to operate correctly after running in the background for many months, or years. We have a world-wide network, providing high-speed connection between everyone on the planet: yet i can't connect to a customer who's 10 miles away. Security is the bane of the internet - the great possibilities are destroyed by security. –  Ian Boyd Jun 16 '10 at 2:29

Personally I would never let a vendor connect to my network without my explicit permission and presence. My suggestion (which is really a suggestion for them and not you) would be to use a third party solution like GoToMeeting, Webex, etc to allow you to connect to their server(s) with their participation.

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The downside to that is it requires their participation; which would be fine if they didn't have to use a computer while doing it. Not everyone is computer savvy (i.e. trying to talk them through a program over the phone is a problem - which technology should be able to fix) –  Ian Boyd Jun 8 '10 at 11:17
    
i once spent 10 minutes on the phone trying to talk to customer through entering a url into their browser. –  Ian Boyd May 2 '11 at 13:19
    
Can you fly up here, go to there site, so i can direct you to copilot.com and enter in the number? i need access to cutomer's SQL Server remotely. –  Ian Boyd Jan 12 '12 at 15:38
    
Can you fly up here this morning; i need access to the customer's site again this morning. i'll be leaving here shortly to drive there. –  Ian Boyd Aug 13 '12 at 13:08
    
Can you fly up here this morning; i need access to the customer's site again this morning. i'll be leaving here shortly to drive there. –  Ian Boyd 2 days ago
up vote 0 down vote accepted

i'm going to answer my own question and say there is no answer.

Except perhaps Teredo; but it suffers from the same problem (unreliable).

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Install Logmein free on the server and client machines.

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