01 September 2005

SchoolTools I: Virtual Private Networking at the University of Arizona

by Bruce Fulton

You can’t get through a program like SIRLS without knowing how to use the major software applications. Word processing, spreadsheets, HTML editors and other productivity programs are all part of a toolkit that gets you through the next paper or project and finally on to your degree. These and a handful of others are the workhorses you can’t be without.

Software isn’t cheap, of course, so when you come across a freebie that does something really useful, it’s a find indeed. And when it makes working on your next paper or project just a bit easier and more efficient, so much the better. In this and the next few columns, we’re going to take a look at some of the most overlooked time savers available. They’re all free, easy, and guaranteed to save you time and effort.

This time, we’ll talk about the U of A VPN. The VPN client software is a must have for anyone who connects from off campus, although few people know about it or what it really does. It might sound complicated, but the application is easy to install and use. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and when you load the client into memory while connected to your own internet service provider, it fools other systems into thinking a request is coming from the U of A, not your local ISP. If you’re not sure why you would want to do that, just think about entering your CAT card number every time you need to pull a paper from E-Reserves or search one of the library databases.

Normally, you need to enter your identification when you connect from off-campus to use services and products that are restricted to students, faculty and staff. You may have noticed that if you connect from on-campus, however, the systems that validate users recognize that the request is coming from inside the University. This will bypass the login and take you straight to the resource. Because the VPN software effectively routes your connection as if you were on campus, you get the same kind of validation off-campus as on. So, no more CAT card entry and logon or access failures when your session changes or you open up a new window.

Other Benefits

The VPN client carries with it a few other benefits that may not seem as obvious. First, you may have tried the new Google Scholar or similar services that search academic databases and electronic journals (see http://scholar.google.com and give it a spin). These services get you the citation, but if you’re connecting from home, you many not be able to get past the login for the journal or database. Without the VPN, you’d have to copy down the citation and go through the Library using your cat card to retrieve it. With the VPN loaded, if the University has a subscription you’ll often go straight to the article! It will also permit you to connect directly with subscribed reference services without having to go through the library access point.

Second, the VPN client can work with your regular Email program like Outlook or Eudora to permit you to send email using your email.arizona.edu address. Outlook, for example, lets you configure multiple Email accounts and select which of them you want to use for any particular message you send. If you’ve tried to set up your school email account using one of these programs and the campus ingoing and outgoing mail servers, you’ve probably noticed that while you can receive Email just fine, outgoing replies or new messages that try to use the outgoing mail server won’t go through. That’s because outgoing mail servers are configured to prohibit what is called mail relay – connecting through one ISP and trying to use the outgoing mail servers of another.

Shutting off mail relay cuts down on spam, but it makes sending messages through outside services difficult. As you might imagine by now, though, if the VPN client is connected, the U of A mail servers will see you as being authenticated on their system and your messages will be sent if you select your U of A account as the return address.

This can be a real help when you’re traveling, by the way. If you are in a hotel with high speed broadband, you may have noticed the same outgoing mail problem – your own ISP won’t relay messages you try to send from an outside connection. You can use the webmail functions provided by your ISP of course, but these aren’t as flexible or easy to use. You can, however, load the VPN client and send messages through your university email account and avoid the relay issue altogether.

Use VPN with other Citation Services

Finally, the VPN client makes working with RefWorks much, much easier. RefWorks is a bibliographic tool that’s free for student use and it just might give you your life back when working on all those SIRLS projects that need a bibliography and citations. But that’s the subject of our next column!

In the meantime the VPN client is easy to install and easy to run. You can get it at https://sitelicense.arizona.edu/vpn/. Basically, you will just download the package and take the default installation options. There are some links to installation and troubleshooting tips that look a little confusing, but the product is supported by campus computing, so if you have any problems, just give them a call.

To use it once installed, just run the program after you connect to your own ISP and before you need to log on to a university resource or service. You’ll enter your UA NetID and password just once, and then it’s good until you close the connection. You’re not restricted just to University resources, of course – your browser and email will still work over the internet as usual, while allowing you to bypass the University logons. When you’re done, click on Disconnect either from the VPN program screen or the system tray icon and you’re good to go.

Happy computing!

(photos: VPN dialer, courtesy of University of Arizona, 2005)

How to cite this document:

Fulton, B. D. (2005). School tools, part I: Virtual Private Networking at the University of Arizona. BiblioTech, 3(1). Retrieved [insert date here], from: http://www.sir.arizona.edu/lso/bibliotech/2005sep_vol3_no1/fulton1.htm


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