No GP leaves the house without his or her BlackBerry, and few leave the office without a laptop in tow. Most private equity professionals are inured to their virtual handcuffs, provided that technology doesn't fail them. When it does? Plenty of IT staffers can vividly recall the last time it did, if only for the colorful language.
As a result, most private equity chief information officers and their staff make reliable remote IT a priority. Many firms use some variety of web-based access to their server that seamlessly replicates their office computer screen. GPs can log on to these systems using any tool that can tap the internet. The problem with any of these solutions is as secure and convenient as they may be, they still rely on the stability of the partners' internet connection. If their home DSL line goes dead, the most sophisticated system can't restore that connection. To prevent this, some firms lay a second line to serve as back-up.
?Many CRV users have laptop wireless cards that can be used as a back up to the DSL or cable connection to add a layer of redundancy in case of glitches.?
Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners is one firm that takes a relatively straightforward approach to remote IT. Their solution is basic enough that the partners don't need their tech staff to install their home office system. ?The partners can take their office laptops home and access their files through Citrix or the companies' Virtual Private Network, or VPN,? says Jim Kouris, the chief information officer of the firm.
Citrix Presentation Server (CPS) is a widely used solution for secure delivery of applications and content to corporate users outside the corporate office, at home or traveling. Users access the firm's server-based applications through a web interface. After users log in at the Citrix web authentication page, they are presented with an html menu of applications which have been ?published? in the Citrix server farm, allowing access to email and work files, ?presented? through a Windows remote desktop. ?They can log in to the site from anywhere they can access the internet using different devices, like Blackberries or iPhones,? says Kouris.
The out-of-office experience is not always glitch free. Users of Citrix occasionally encounter printing problems, says Hoby Cook of Boston-based Thomas H. Lee Partners (THL). ?The user will be sitting at a computer with direct-connected printer, the printer or printer driver might be old, or an obscure model. When the user sends an instruction to print, the command to initiate printing travels across the Internet to the CPS, and the server responds by sending the print job back to the home printer. It's a two-way communication. In addition, the current version of Presentation Server uses what Citrix calls the Universal Print Driver, which essentially makes a best guess at what kind of printer is at the user's location. Sometimes it just gets it wrong, until the IT staff fixes it.?
Secure Access Gateway is Citrix's VPN product. It features a hardened appliance installed on the corporate network and a small software client that's installed on the home PC. ?Secure Access allows users to run native applications ? applications which are running locally on the home PC ? to access network resources protected by robust security over the connection,? says Cook.
THL offers both Presentation Server and Secure Access Gateway to its partners, allowing them to choose which solution they use. They also provide Outlook Web Access which Cook explains is mainly a ?quick and dirty? route to check emails at an airport kiosk or hotel room. Regardless of which solution the partner chooses, the firm's IT staff visits the partner's homes and sets up their IT.
Mark Weinstein, the vice president of IT at Waltham, Massachusetts- based Charles Rivers Ventures (CRV) takes a slightly different approach. Many of CRV's partner home offices have segmented networks, one segment dedicated to CRV work, and the other for friend and family use. By setting it up this way, everyone in the home can share an internet connection, printers, and other appliances, but also can secure access to CRV resources. ?Many CRV users have laptop wireless cards that can be used as a back up to the DSL or cable connection to add a layer of redundancy in case of glitches,? notes Weinstein.
All the IT chiefs tapped for this story admitted that local internet providers are the X factor in these systems. ?That variable drives a lot of why we're so committed to having as clean and reliable a connection to the server as possible,? says Weinstein. ?Because every minute the partner is wrestling with IT, they're not doing what they do best.?