Graphic Arts’ IT Guy Q and A

My company set up a VPN so I can connect to the office from home, but when I try to connect to the server, I cannot choose the server’s name and connect. Why is that?

The fundamental problem you are describing is a common one and is experienced by many users under a lot of circumstances. Often when we connect to services on the Internet, we connect to them by entering a name, whether it’s a website, or sending e-mail or an app that posts our thoughts to Twitter. It seems to be magical somehow, but let me see if I can lift the curtain and explain the mystery.

The Internet is a connection of machines and services, which are identified by an IP address and protocol, respectively. In all cases, these machines are waiting for you to make a connection. Users of the Internet prefer to use names to connect. In order to access a machine by name, your computer makes a connection and queries a Domain Name Server (DNS). The DNS server that your computer queries then begins asking other DNS servers around the world for the correct IP address that matches the name of the site or domain. Somewhere out there is a DNS that knows the whereabouts of the item you are looking for. If it does know, it sends the IP address back to your computer and makes the connection (in a manner of speaking).

DNS service is akin to how a receptionist works. When someone arrives at your office’s front desk by telephone or in person, he or she inquires with the receptionist about your location. The receptionist can direct him or her to your phone extension or to your office. The receptionist can also contact you, by phone, by shouting down the hallway or by going to you door to see if you are there. The receptionist can also tell the person “he’s at extension 101,” “he’s in room 2,” “he’s not taking calls,” or “I have no idea where he is.”

In the same manner, the DNS service resolves the name to the address and then connects you to the correct address – if it knows the location of the machine and if the service is available. If you’re using your computer remotely there may be no DNS server that knows the location of an internal office server, or the DNS server currently has the wrong address – so you will get a error if you connect and the address and protocol are unresolvable. (The DNS servers may never be told the actual addresses of your internal devices – for security purposes.) Your IT administrator can also set up a special file so your computer will always know the internal IP address.

When you make a connection to a service, you may have to log in. The login prompt is like the doorman at an exclusive club. If you don’t provide the correct credentials, you will be denied entry. If you do present the correct username and password, you are granted access and can connect to your blog, or your bank or order that pizza that you had saved under your profile.

So you may be told to connect to your company by the external IP address, which is unique to you company’s office. If it is possible, your IT administrator can add the VPN server to your domains DNS information so you can connect by name. In most cases, the information will be different than it is while you are in your office.

There’s a lot of buzz lately about social networking and our company doesn’t want to be left behind. Should we set up a Facebook page or use Twitter, and how do we set it up?

Social networking may be instrumental in the evolution of the Internet and may prove to be more beneficial to users and companies in the future. The answer to the question of your involvement is that it depends on your business and how you communicate with your clients.

Social networking is about building a community and whether you should be involved depends on your brand, your market and whether your clients are going to follow you on social networks.

You can start a Facebook fan page to communicate with Facebook users who sign up to follow you. Your success will depend on how often you put new information up. If you add news or a promotion frequently, then you may be successful. Keeping up takes effort like any kind of marketing. The important take away is that social networking is about creating a community around you, your products and services.