Using VPN with Tracker ChairSide Suite

Using VPN with Tracker ChairSide Suite

Expansion dental offices are something that’s becoming more common in today’s practices. While most offices are going digital and using a lot more technology available to them for charting and digital radiography,  practice owners aren’t just looking for the best software available to them, but for leading technology to use at their off-site locations.

VPNFor satellite offices, establishing a quick and secure way for two offices to share data is an obstacle any office must overcome. Remote connections such as Terminal Server / Remote Desktop or PCAnywhere are some solutions that can be used; however they are not without their limitations. Establishing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is another method that actually puts the remote computer on the network of the host office. A VPN allows mobile employees and satellite offices to utilize all locally available files via high speed access. Since this connection is strictly Internet based, there are times when using this as a connection method will result in a delay on the remote computer.

Setting up this connection requires a trained professional who is not just familiar with networks, but the needs of the office. It is important to set up the proper permissions and encryption methods in order to use the VPN to its fullest potential. On the hardware end of things, a Windows Server Operating System (standard and higher) will also be required in order to establish incoming VPN connections to the office.

Through our testing we have determined the best way to utilize a VPN in an office is to first have the satellite office connect to the host network and once connected use Remote Desktop to connect to the server machine. This set up it will provide the best performance for running all the software as well as the VPN connection. There are advantages and limitations of using the VPN in this manner and they are as follows:

Advantages

Single Database for Multiple Locations

A VPN treats the remote computer like one of the machines in the host office so all the same information can be shared to this remote computer as if it was in the office. One advantage to connecting remotely is that a single database can be shared between multiple locations. In doing this, practice owners can access all information and reports through the use of one Tracker installation while still keeping practices (or locations) separate.
This also limits the maintenance and backup processes being done as there is only one database needing to be tended to rather than a database at each location. In using ChairSide Imaging all images for patients in all locations can be viewed and reviewed by the doctor from one machine instead of having to transport images to and from the satellite office.

Security

Using a VPN will add a higher level of security than other remote connection methods through various advanced encryption techniques and authentication protocols. All of the data transmitted between the client and host computer are encrypted, not just the applications being run. Because the VPN is created through the Windows Server Operating System you have more flexibility in restricting and allowing user access to the network and its computers.

You can still restrict or allow certain employees to perform certain functions on the network or allow access to particular folders. Even though a remote connection is being used, a staff member can still have the same rights and features in both Windows and Tracker as they would in the office. This saves time in creating another set of users through the remote location and can all be managed from one site.

Access to network and files

Connecting to a VPN is the equivalent of plugging in your computer right at the office; you are still able to access all the same files and folders located on other machines (images on server, documents on reception, etc …) as you would when you are in the office. What’s more, images and other files saved by you on the remote computer will still be accessible to the satellite location.

Limitations

Internet Reliability / Performance

The reliability and performance of a VPN relies heavily on the office’s Internet connection. The upload and download speed of the office greatly effects how quickly files can be saved and opened as well as how quickly some applications will perform. This, unfortunately, is out of the office’s control and could be a determining factor in deciding if the solution is worthwhile. If the Internet connection at either office drops, the remote office will be disconnected and offices experiencing frequent Internet connection downtime will need to take this into consideration.

As recommended above, the suggested set up for connection to your office is so you connect to the office via the VPN and for Tracker and ChairSide Suite usage you would use the Remote Desktop to access the main server. The benefit of this is that even with a slow connection, programs will still run at a high speed and the availability of file sharing between the office and the remote location is still available.

Accessing large files

The VPN link utilizes the existing Internet connections through both the host and remote machines. Copying files from a remote computer into a mapped drive or folder on the server still requires that the file be uploaded. The larger the file is the longer the upload takes to transfer. Depending on its size, these files can take minutes and/or hours.
When running the software over a remote connection and in the VPN, you eliminate the majority of issues of accessing large files over the VPN as you would be connected directly to the server machine via Remote Desktop since they are not being transferred.

Direct Acquisition

Offices using ChairSide Imaging will experience some limitations in what they can acquire over the VPN connection. Due to the type of integration the hardware has with the software, it is strongly encouraged you do not directly obtain ChairSide Imaging from X-rays or Wi-Fi while using the VPN connection. These files need to transfer over the Internet before they become available to the host office and the speed at which this will occur will cause problems.

As an alternative, images via devices like the Wi-Fi can be taken and saved to a network drive set up to point to a location on the host server. By doing this, your images will be readily available for quick import from the server computer. This process will take a little longer as the files need to be uploaded first, but with the right camera settings these images should be small in size without the sacrifice of image quality.
Alternative

One database per location with remote connection

If the office still wants to use VPN but chooses not to because of the limitations, another option is to use separate databases for each location. A separate system can be set up so that each location has its own database and information and images are kept separate. From there, a VPN can still be utilized so that a connection can be made at any time in order to view important files and/or transfer images to the satellite office. A Terminal Server connection to the server can be made available in case the office needs to log into Tracker or any part of the ChairSide Suites to view patient or practice information at any time.

If desired, practices can easily take advantage of VPN connections and still run Tracker and all its Clinical Applications with little-to-no change in performance with the sacrifice of some direct acquisitions on the host computer. With the use of a remote desktop connection to the server computer within the VPN, Tracker and its Clinical Applications will smoothly transfer small-to-moderately-sized files between the host and satellite office and easily sharing necessary information. It’s an easy and cost-effective way to manage multiple locations without sacrificing software performance.