Pertino lets small businesses use the cloud to create secure networks for their remote workers—without hardware, hassles or high cost.
When small businesses need to provide mobile employees, satellite offices or outside contractors with remote access to a corporate network, they typically turn to VPNs, which require special hardware and/or significant configuration effort to provide secure communication over the Internet.
But at the intersection of cloud computing and software-defined networking (SDN) sits an alternative called Pertino. It aims to let small businesses take advantage of secure remote network access that’s much simpler and less expensive than a traditional VPN.
As a nascent service, Pertino still has some rough edges and noteworthy limitations; however we found that it nevertheless makes securely linking far-flung users and their computers extremely quick and easy.
Pertino Cloud Network: Compatibility and Setup
One of those aforementioned limitations is that, for the moment at least, Pertino’s software only supports Windows systems—namely, those running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 (with support for the newer Windows 8 and Server 2012 operating systems currently in beta and officially due in April).
Figure 1: Pertino automatically gives names to your network and computers, though the latter are not particularly meaningful.
Pertino’s Mac OS X support enters beta in April and the company expects to debut it in May, while support for smartphone/tablet platforms is also on the drawing board and slated for “later in 2013”. (If you’re still clinging tenaciously to Windows XP, Pertino plans to support that too, but there’s no timetable yet.)
We began our review by visiting Pertino’s website to download and install the software (on desktop running Windows 7 Professional). You need to create an account to use the Pertino service, but a name and e-mail address are all you need to sign up, and you can set up your account from within the software’s install wizard instead of doing it in advance.
Once we had Pertino’s software up and running on our Windows 7 desktop (there is no configuration required), we logged into Pertino’s site several more times from other computers—in our case, a Windows 8 notebook and Windows Small Business Server 2011 running in a VM—in order to install the software and add those systems to the network.
This is where we first encountered a few of Pertino’s rough edges. To identify your Pertino network the service gives it a rather awkward moniker based on your email address—e.g. johndoe-at-pertino.com, which can’t be changed. Moreover, each system you add to the network automatically gets a derivative name—e.g. johndoe-at-pertino.com Computer 3096.
Fortunately you can change these not-in-any-way-meaningful computer names to something more descriptive via account settings on Pertino’s website. It would be nice, however, if you could do it from the computer itself, or better yet, when you first add the computers to the network in the first place. (Pertino says both issues will be addressed in future updates.)
Figure 2: Pertino’s website lets you view network members, send invitations, and remove people from the network.
To bring someone else into your Pertino network, you first verify your email address with Pertino, and then you can send out invitations to join your network (invitees must create their own Pertino accounts and install the software). Conversely, you can remove someone—and all their devices—from your network with a couple of clicks.
We noticed that certain aspects of Pertino’s browser-based management console did not display properly—at all really—in Internet Explorer 10 (on either Windows 8 or Windows 7), even when using Compatibility View. It worked fine in IE 9, as well as with recent versions of Chrome and Firefox.
Pertino Small Business Networking: Use and Performance
Browser display problems and network/computer naming idiosyncrasies ultimately don’t detract from Pertino’s operational simplicity. A computer connected to the Internet and running the Pertino software is visible on every other computer on that Pertino network within the Network section of Windows Explorer. This means you can interact with distant computers over Pertino as if the computer was on the same local network (the links are securely encrypted with 256-bit AES).
Figure 3: From Pertino’s software you can switch to another network, disconnect from Pertino or jump to the website.
In our tests, we had no difficulty mapping drives, browsing and opening documents, transferring files and folders, or remote controlling computers via Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop Connection. (All of these activities depend on you having appropriate account credentials on the remote computer, of course.) A tray-based utility allows you break your connection to Pertino or switch between different Pertino networks—you can be a member of multiple Pertino networks but only connect to one at a time.
As for Pertino’s performance, you won’t mistake it for a local network connection to be sure, you probably won’t want to try streaming video over it, and large file transfers may require some patience—but such is the nature of any VPN or remote access technology that works over relatively slow WAN connections.
Pertino’s performance in our testing was more than satisfactory, and in a given scenario it will have a lot to do with the upstream bandwidth available to the computer you’re remotely connecting to. In an ideal scenario, you’d install Pertino on a cloud-based server with beaucoup available bandwidth and connect to it via a speedy downstream Internet connection. In any event, Pertino doesn’t impose any bandwidth limits either in terms of how much data you can transfer over the network or how fast you transfer it.
The (highly simplified) description of how Pertino works is that it installs a virtual network adapter on your system, gives the adapter an IPv6 address, and then links your Pertino devices over a private, cloud-based IPv6 network. (Pertino distributes its network across a number of different cloud providers, including Amazon.) By contrast, your computer still connects to the Internet—and everything else-- via IPv4. Click on the link for more information on the difference between IPv4 and IPv6.
Figure 4: Accessing computers over Pertino works just like it does over a local network, albeit slower.
The upshot to this approach is that Pertino computers can talk to each other but not to other devices on the same remote physical network. For example, you can’t access a typical (read: non-Windows based) NAS server via Pertino. Similarly, you can’t send documents directly to a remote network printer unless it’s first configured and shared on a computer running Pertino software. By comparison, a conventional VPN can provide access to an entire network, not just specific devices on it.
Pricing and the Bottom Line
Pertino offers both free and paid subscription options. Personal—the free version—limits networks to three members and allows each one to connect up to three devices. With a Professional subscription, at a cost $10 per user per month, networks can have up to 250 members—again with up to 3 devices per member.
(As of this writing, Pertino is offering an introductory deal that boosts the number of devices allowed per user from three to five.) Pertino doesn’t offer a discounted annual payment plan, but it also doesn’t require a long-term contract, so businesses are free to terminate and re-establish subscriptions as needs dictate.
Even in its current Windows-only form, Pertino is an impressively useful product, and that will only improve as the company adds support for additional operating systems and devices. Small businesses that want an affordable way to securely link remote users—with minimal hassle—would do well to look into Pertino.
Price: Free or $10 per user per month depending on the plan selected
Pros: Provides quick, easy and secure connections for remote file/computer access; reasonably priced (or free) with no contracts required
Cons: currently supports Windows computers only; crude automatic network/computer labeling
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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