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Appendix D: Automatic Connections

Overview

Automatic Connections can be configured on a user's workstation to automate the remote connection process. The ability to include a pre-configured dial-up connection to the administrator's RAS server significantly reduces the overhead associated with supporting these connections. There are two different ways to create an automatic dial-up connection with the Internet Explorer 5 package: importing dial-up connections from the Internet Explorer Administration Kit workstation, or using the Connection Manager Administration Kit (CMAK). Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. This appendix is intended as a discussion of the merits and ramifications of each approach. Technical specifics can be found in the Internet Explorer Administration Kit Help file, Appendix D, and the Customization wizard walkthrough.

Importing a Connection

The easiest way to set up an automatic connection is to create the corporate RAS settings on the Internet Explorer Administration Kit workstation and then import the connection settings during the Customization wizard. Importing a connection will create a Dial-Up Networking (DUN) entry on each user workstation to match those on the Internet Explorer Administration Kit workstation. Dial-up, protocol, and proxy settings for each connection will also be imported. If more than one DUN entry is imported, the default connection on the Internet Explorer Administration Kit workstation will also be made the default on the user workstation. The primary advantage to this approach is that it is simple. DUN entries are usually familiar to both users and support technicians, which helps to reduce both the learning curve and administrative overhead. Imported DUN entries can be used in conjunction with a user's existing DUN entries, such as a personal ISP.

Dial-Up Networking Entries work well in situations where a Dial-Up Point of Presence (such as a RAS server) have a single dial-up number to dial that is not likely to change. There are two situations in which using a CMAK profile will be a better solution:

  1. One disadvantage of importing existing connections is the static nature of a DUN entry. If users require more than a few dial-up numbers or an organization's RAS numbers tend to change often, then the administrator is required to import a prohibitive number of separate DUN entries. When remote users need to connect to multiple numbers or when a package is going to be distributed to multiple groups of users with their own regional RAS numbers, the CMAK would be a better approach.

  2. Dial-up Networking profiles do not support connect actions. If the administrator wants to configure an application to run automatically before, during, or after a connection, then Connection Manager should be used.

The Connection Manager Administration Kit (CMAK)

The CMAK is used to create and administer Connection Profiles for Microsoft Connection Manager. Connection Manager is a client application similar to Dial-up Networking that supports: multiple phone numbers per Connection Manager profile, the ability to run applications automatically before, during, and after a connection occurs; and Virtual Private Networks. Connection Manager is part of Internet Connection Point Services for RAS, which is in the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack. Connection Manager can be integrated with Connection Point Services for NT, which consists of a phone book administrator and a phone book service that can be used to automatically configure, administer, and dynamically update connection numbers to a client Connection Manager profile.

There are four major advantages to creating automatic connections with the CMAK. The first is support for multiple phone numbers per connection profile, a desirable option for organizations that have numerous RAS sites to which the users need to connect. Administrators can also dynamically update the Connection Manager phone book by using Connection Point Services. This feature is especially useful for organizations that need to constantly update a pool of dial-up numbers. A Connection Manager profile can also automatically run applications before, during, or after a connection is made. Finally, a Connection Manager profile can be configured with custom bitmaps and license agreements, Help files, user documentation, and command-line parameters.

The primary disadvantage of the CMAK is the added complexity of correctly configuring a Connection Manager Profile. Although static phone book entries can be used, Microsoft Connection Point Services are required to administer multiple phone book entries. Connection Manager profiles are different from DUN entries, and will require both users and administrators to learn how to use them. The use of auto-applications and connect actions can be useful to an organization, but increase the possibility of tech support calls if they don't work as the user expects, or cause an application conflict (such as multiple e-mail clients running at the same time). If, however, an organization is already using both Connection Manager and Connection Point Services, then a CMAK profile can be integrated into an Internet Explorer package with a minimum of administrative overhead. Detailed information on the CMAK can be found in Appendix B, and in the CMAK documentation.

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