by Thor Olavsrud

Back to the Future: Remote access technology then and now

Oct 21, 2015
InnovationTechnology Industry

We may not have flying cars and hoverboards, but the world is much changed since Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown hopped in a DeLorean time machine in 1985 for the future of 2015. One big change is that the workplace is no longer defined by location or hardware.

The evolution of remote access technology

Great Scott! Today marks the day that Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly, along with Doc Emmett Brown and Jennifer Parker, arrive in the future in a DeLorean time machine in the Robert Zemeckis film Back to the Future II.

“We’re descending toward Hill Valley, California, at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015.” – Doc Brown

It’s been 30 years since the original film and 26 since the sequel. Technology and the workplace itself has changed considerably since 1985. Okay, the movie didn’t get it right when it comes to flying cars and hoverboards. But even mobile devices and secure app and data delivery have evolved in ways it would have been hard to imagine 30 years ago, or even 15 years ago.

Who would have predicted how people can work from virtually anywhere today? But the foundations of that technology were laid long ago. Let’s take a journey back through the past of remote access technology.


1 modem

The first commercial modem was produced in 1962 and the technology developed quickly with increasing data transmission demand. These modems were the first stepping stone in the foundation of remote access technologies. As modems developed over the years, they enabled remote administration of PCs and computer systems, but the cost for telephone line usage was high for long-distance purposes, so the search for a cheaper, faster medium continued. 

Location-defined workspaces

2 location defined workspace

Even as modems slowly began to proliferate in the 1970s and 1980s, work was still largely defined by its location.

“In the 70s and 80s, we had location-defined workplaces, says Geir Ramleth, chief strategy officer and senior vice president, Workspace Services, Citrix. “We went to one place and did specific tasks on specific equipment. IT environments were built in isolation without common networking, operation systems and user interfaces, and were often restricted to proprietary hardware and software. Even apps were frequently tethered to one person or device, and productivity was confined to a departmental level.”

Broadband Internet

3 broadband internet

The 1990s saw the emergence of broadband Internet. The “always on” broadband connection made it possible to access information at any time. Broadband also made long-distance computer administration more affordable.

The possibilities seemed endless, but in some ways broadband was also a Pandora’s Box. Broadband Internet came with increased threats to information and data.

It quickly became apparent that hackers could monitor certain ports and intercept encrypted data, which led to demand for more secure remote access options. 

“The reality is that security is no longer an IT issue, it is a business problem,” Ramleth says. 

Hardware-defined workspaces

4 hardware difined

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the dotcom bubble and Y2K scare come and go. In the meantime, organizations designed and deployed IT environments with enterprise LAN/WAN technology and common/standardized software and hardware.

“As a result, work became transportable with devices such as desktops and laptops, apps were developed on a one-to-many model and productivity was realized cross-functionally,” Ramleth says.

Software-defined workspaces

5 software defined workspaces

Today, workspaces aren’t defined by location or even by hardware. New remote access technologies are designed, built and combined with common technology on Internet architecture, such as the cloud. As a result, apps are based on an any-to-any model that enables global and business-wide productivity, while security can be more contextual based on the person who is accessing the data. 

Ramleth believes that in this age of the “software-defined workplace, workers are characterized by who they are and what they need to do — not what device they have or where they need to go.” 

Secure data and application delivery

6 secure data and application delivery

Secure, high-speed connections have enabled huge strides in remote PC access. Today, remote access use cases include software support, PC troubleshooting, secure file transfer, collaborative teamwork sessions, virtual classes and other applications that allow people and computers in remote locations to interact.

“People can access everything they need to get their work done — apps, desktops, data, colleagues — from wherever they are, using any device and network,” Ramleth says. “Businesses can enable productivity anywhere, for anyone — contract workers at a third-party call center, a salesperson or executive on the road, the employees of a newly acquired subsidiary, the staff working at a new branch office or customer location.”