Ajyal Remote Support, what is it, and what does it do?

Cairo : 2005-10-07
Interviewer : Mohamed Ali
Guest : Yaser Gad   [Ajyal Technical Support Manager]

Reporter: Hello Mr. Yaser Gad

Mr. Gad: Hello to you!!

Reporter: Ajyal Information Systems has announced lately Ajyal VNC programme which the company hopes to increase the efficiency of the technical support. What is Ajyal VNC?

Yaser Gad

Yaser Gad

Mr. Gad: Ajyal VNC is a Remote Using Utility that works similarly to windows XP's Remote Desktop or PC Anywhere.
As soon as two PCs become connected to each other, one of them can start controlling the other through this programme without the need to be sitting in front of that PC. Imagine that the PC is placed somewhere and its screen and keyboard are placed in another location. The keyboard and screen do not become connected to the PC through wires but rather the internet.

Reporter: Therefore the technical support employees can work on the users' computers without having to literally visit their offices!

Mr. Gad: Exactly! The technical support staff can work on the clients' computers from any location. Therefore we can provide support services quicker to our users, and waste less time in transportation to and from the clients' offices. There are many problems that face our clients that can be solved easier and more efficiently using this programme. Our employees often have to visit the clients' office to copy a file or insert a Drive, which only takes a few minutes to fulfil but they waste almost a couple of hours in the process due to transportation. Isn't it more useful to save that time to serve another customer?
There are also procedures that take a long period of time to be executed such as ending the fiscal year or starting a new branch. It becomes much easier to start the procedure using Ajyal VNC then moving later to the client's office, if required to finish up the process, instead of waiting for an hour or two at the client's office. The time saving process means serving customers at a higher rate.

Reporter: Why did you develop a new programme to perform this feature while there available programmes that achieve these tasks such as PC Anywhere and many others. Windows XP has this function.

Mr. Gad: We were asked this question several times. There are many technical reasons that resulted in the development of our own programme. Actually we did not start from scratch but rather took one of the ready made applications and added on it our own specifications.

Reporter: Do you mean that these programmes will raise the costs on the users?

Mr. Gad: Yes this is one the reasons, as PC Anywhere will cost the client an extra $200 to each PC connected to it. Windows XP Remote Desktop is only presented with XP Professional. We cannot ask all our clients to upgrade to Windows XP Professional.
The cost is an important reason but it is not the only grounds which we based our decision. There are also technical aspects that make these programmes less suitable for our client relationship but rather more suitable for other uses. There are other, free of charge, programmes that could have been used without an extra cost on the client but for the same technical reasons we did not use them. We couldn't have been able to secure the connection using these programmes and they might have inhibited the programme. Some of these programmes work electronically online such as Logmein.com and gotomyassist.com.
What I mean is that we researched all these options and would have preferred to use one of the available programmes but chose to begin with an open source programme and make some additions to it to make it more suitable for our use.

Reporter: You stated that there are some technical reasons behind deciding to develop your own application. Could you please shade a light on that?

Mr. Gad: Certainly. Most of these reasons concern the cause for development of these applications and the work environment. The majority of them work according to two principles. Neither of which is suitable for technical support, where one party serves the other outside the company borders.
The first principle is that these programmes have to be always running and ready to receive any outside signal to control the PC locally. The second is that the controlling party needs to call the other party. In our situation that means that Ajyal calls the client to start remote using.
This is only acceptable on the local level. Some of the technical support employees use it within the company to install new programmes, administer servers, or restart them. Most of the remote using applications market themselves in this manner. As I mentioned earlier all these applications can be used locally on the LAN or behind a firewall, with credentials that only the local users have. As these programmes need to be always running therefore the technical support employee can use such a programme remotely, even if the user is not available to authorize it. This is considered a privilege for these applications as they allow the technical support employee to upgrade all the computers available within an organization after the working hours without having to move to each desktop personally and waste a lot of time. This privilege turns into a serious security problem if the remote user is placed outside the local network, as this would allow any outsider to hack onto the company's network without the knowledge of the user or the administration.
In addition these remote using applications require network setups that open specific ports within the firewall whether the built in Windows Firewall or network firewalls such as ISA Server. Setting up these networks and opening ports within decreases its security level and increases administration effort.
I would also like to add an issue that is related to the level of efficiency. All the commercial remote using applications are developed in the USA to meet their market, on either a local network or a high speed connection, which makes them unsuitable when the connection is slow using a modem for example. In our region contrary is anticipated, as the communication infrastructure hasn't been developed to allow all organizations to connect to the internet at 1MB/sec, at an affordable price. This service is provided at Europe at $70 per month utmost.
As I referred earlier, the difference in the objectives and the work environment, play a major role in our decision. The commercial remote using programmes fulfil their role but do not meet our needs. Therefore, we opted for developing our own programme. I hope I have explained thoroughly.

Reporter: How does Ajyal VNC differ from the rest of the remote using applications, and how does it go about the obstacles that you have just mentioned?

Mr. Gad: Most of what has been developed inside Ajyal concerns establishing and controlling the communication.

Who is Yaser Gad?

Joined Ajyal in 1994 as a technical support professional. Worked as Jeddah branch manager, then worked as Ajyal Technical Support Manager in 2002, and promoted to his current post as Executive Manager of Cairo branch in 2006.
First, Ajyal VNC will not be always active but will only be activated by the client when in need of technical support from Ajyal, and can also stop it at any time, whether the support employee has finished his job or not. Therefore Ajyal VNC gives the upper hand to the client contrary to the commercial remote using application that gives it to the support staff.
Secondly, the user does not need to change any of the firewall or network settings, as the user is the one that defines the outgoing connection, instead of the incoming. The user has to make the online connection, activate Ajyal VNC, then enter the technical support individual's extension number, which he wishes to be served by. The extension number is always a three digit number (an example would be 455), hence the support professional would be granted complete control over the user's desktop as if he was at his office.
Third, Ajyal VNC does not impede the user's screen like the Remote Desktop, thus the user can see for himself everything that the support professional is performing which comes in handy in training activities. The user can disconnect at any time, as I mentioned earlier.
Fourth, the user does not need to enter any technical information to perform the connection call. Some of the remote using applications ask the user to enter his IP address to pass it on to the other party's PC, noting that this address may change from one call to the other. Conversely Ajyal VNC does not require the user to know any technical information. It only requires the user to enter the three digit extension number of the support staff which he could get through a telephone call.
Fifth, Ajyal VNC doe not require any set up, it only needs to be copied to any folder, and can be activated by clicking on its icon. It will be included automatically with ASWAQ5 and ASWAQ6.
Sixth, the programme has been modified to work more efficiently with slow connections like the dial up connections by using the latest data compression techniques, in response to the weak communication infrastructures in the region.
Finally, all the messages appear in both languages, Arabic and English, as most of our clients are from the Middle Eastern region.

Reporter: Why does the connection between the user and the support staff have to be through the internet? Why can't the connection between the user and the branch be direct through the modem?

Mr. Gad: For higher efficiency and less cost. Our branches are all connected to the internet using high speed connections which allows us to serve more than one customer at the same time while keeping the phone line available for other uses.
On the other hand an internet connection is much cheaper for the user than making a direct call especially if the user is in another city. The cost on some occasions will be free of charge if the user has a DSL connection or a substitute.
Finally the internet online connection will allow us in the future to provide a comprehensive link between the customer service website and Ajyal VNC, in order to have quality assurance measures.

Reporter: You mentioned earlier that Ajyal VNC development was based on an open source programme. Can you tell us what the programme is or is it a development department secret?

Mr. Gad: Not at all, Ajyal adopts the transparency strategy in its administration. Ajyal VNC was developed upon real vnc which could be achieved on www.realvnc.com. Real vnc is considered one of the oldest strongest remote using open source applications. Many of the open source and commercial programmes were developed from real vnc. An example would be ultravnc and Remotely Anywhere. Real vnc was primarily developed for Unix users and later for Windows users.

Reporter: Why did you start with an open source programme and not a commercial one?

Mr. Gad: First I would like to state that the development process of the open source programmes is going fantastically, many of which compete and often exceed the commercial ones. If you look for instance at the quality of FairFax or Open Office, you will find that they are of extremely high quality. Real vnc is one of these excellent open source programmes that we have tested thoroughly and gave better results than many of the commercial applications.
Going back to your question, the open source applications' source code is accessible easily and free of charge. Therefore, we can modify, add to it, and hand it over to our clients, without any additional costs. On the other hand, it is impossible to access the source code of a commercial programme without being heavily charged, which would have led to passing on the extra charge on to our clients. The company board never likes to refer to this solution as long as there are cheaper ways.

Reporter: What is the programming language used to develop Ajyal VNC?

Mr. Gad: The development department used the same language used by real vnc which is Microsoft Visual C++.

Reporter: Can Ajyal VNC be used as a remote using application for the users? Can the users use Ajyal VNC as a local alternative within organizations, to PC Anywhere or Remote Desktop?

Mr. Gad: No this cannot be done. We developed Ajyal VNC to technically support our product users, not to market it commercially. Note that what the client actually receives is half of the programme, while the other half is used by Ajyal's technical support staff. As you should know, any remote using application is split into two halves. One half at the PC that is controlled, and the other half at the computer that is controlling the distant desktop, through a connection, that is the internet in our case. For the connection to take place, it requires either, a direct call and identification of both computers' IP addresses, or by using a third party to facilitate the connection. Ajyal VNC situation depends on Ajyal's website to assist in the connection process between both parties, which is known as Directory Service. Ajyal website can play this role only because our branches which act as the service centres are limited. The IP address of each service centre is also well known. Therefore Ajyal website's role in facilitating the connection is vital, as it knows that the extension number is 455 for example, or that the IP address is Therefore when the user enters the 455 extension number, the connection with this IP number is granted automatically. As you can see the objectives and the designing of this programme has been developed to provide central technical support, where the user calls a specific customer service, thus it is not suitable as an alternative to Remote Desktop, for instance, in the same manner that Remote Desktop is not suitable for a central technical support, which has led us into developing Ajyal VNC in the first place.

Reporter: Who is eligible to use Ajyal VNC?

Mr. Gad: All of our clients within the warranty period or those on a service agreement.

Reporter: Does this include those using old product releases such as ASWAQ4 or ASWAQ3?

Mr. Gad: Yes as long as they are using Windows 98 or a later windows version, as Ajyal VNC does not support Windows 95 or Windows 3.

Reporter: Will you train the users on Ajyal VNC?

Mr. Gad: The programme is too simple for training, all that the user needs to do is the following:
  1. Dial an internet connection.
  2. Run the programme, an Arabic message will appear asking the user to enter the three digit extension number of the technical support professional.
  3. A few seconds later, a message will appear telling the user that the connection is being authorised, or that the computer is being controlled by the technical support professional.
  4. The user can always disconnect through an icon that will appear below the working space, next to the clock.
As you can see it is a simple procedure that can be undertaken by any user.

Reporter: How can users get Ajyal VNC?

Mr. Gad: In the following releases of ASWAQ5 and ASWAQ6, Ajyal VNC will be integrated within the contents of the product CD. It will also be integrated within both products' upgrade releases. The rest of the users will be able to get it as soon as it is released by downloading it from the customer service website.

Reporter: When will Ajyal VNC be launched for customer service?

Mr. Gad: We are now mid September. Ajyal VNC will begin its testing process between Ajyal branches, and also between a limited number of clients and our branches. We hope to release it publicly by the end of November 2005.

Reporter: Will Ajyal VNC be developed in the future? Will there be any additions to it in the future?

Mr. Gad: Ajyal VNC is not one of Ajyal's products, rather it is a service application to increase the level of efficiency in our services. The specifications that it contains now, we think, are enough to serve its purpose, but if in the future we realise that it lacks any features, we will definitely add them right away.

Reporter: Mr. Yaser Gad, thank you and we wish you luck.

Mr. Gad: Your welcome.

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