Remote connectivity solutions: Doing RDP sans Microsoft

Editor’s note: In response to the coronavirus crisis gripping the world, TechGenix is republishing a selection of recent articles, tutorials, and product reviews with relevant information for IT pros as their jobs change dramatically. In this article, originally published July 12, 2019, we examine alternatives to Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol for remote connectivity.

Third-party remote connectivity solutions abound in the marketplace. Which one should be used? Or should you stick with the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) solution that is built into Microsoft Windows? After all, Microsoft has now expanded the range of platforms supported by its RDP solution by offering Remote Desktop (RD) clients for non-Windows platforms such as Android, iOS, and macOS. So if your company has multiple client platforms in what is basically a Windows-based environment then sticking with Microsoft’s free RD solution may be the way you should go.

On the other hand, there’s a reason why there are all those other third-party RDP apps and non-RDP remote connectivity solutions out there in the marketplace today. Maybe it’s to provide some features that aren’t currently available in Microsoft RDP. Or maybe they perform better, are more secure, provide greater connection reliability over unreliable networks, have a more intuitive user interface that makes for improved user productivity, or combine support for both RDP and non-RDP remote connectivity. At least according to the datasheet offered by the vendor offering them.

To investigate what’s popular these days in the RD market, I talked a while back with a number of my IT pro colleagues from around the world to tap into their hands-on experience with these solutions. For the benefit of those of you reading this article, I’ve shared some of their recommendations and insights here in this article concerning three popular remote connectivity solutions you may want to consider looking into.

Teaming up with TeamViewer

TeamViewer

TeamViewer has been around for some time and is still a popular solution for remote connectivity. TeamViewer does not use Microsoft’s RDP protocol for allowing connections with remote computers and uses its own solution instead, which has several advantages that make it easier to use behind firewalls and more useful for providing remote support. I use TeamViewer myself for providing el cheapo support for my family and friends who have problems with their computers. Scott, an IT pro who lives in Australia, says, “I use TeamViewer. It’s good. Config is a bit complex to set up. It is not obvious to set up that way. There is some suspicion about their security but so far no definitive proof I could find. You don’t have to use their central server if you are suspicious you can direct connect to machines if you have dynamic DNS setup or just using only in Intranet setup. I found less CPU overhead on Windows machines compared to other RDP apps.” Another colleague who works at MIT also praised it by saying, “Love it. Multiplatform, and there are diff versions depending on particular use, i.e., non-installable version, unattended version, etc. Even the remote support person can run a version that you don’t have to install on your own system, for occasional use.”

Devolutions: The next stage in RDP evolution

Devolutions

Even more popular among my colleagues is Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager, which offers a solution that lets you centralize remote connection technologies, remote machine data, password management, and access control by using a platform that is secure, scalable, and easy to use. One colleague named Chris who works in the UK clearly believes that Devolutions is the best enterprise-level replacement for Microsoft’s in-box RDP client. “I’m a big fan of Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager,” says Chris. “It’s been a staple tool for me for the past eight years and hasn’t let me down once. The free version is very usable, but I’m happy to pay for the enterprise single-user license.” Explaining why he thinks it’s a superior product, Chris says: “It runs a good-looking tabbed interface for multiple RDP sessions, and the latest version can run multiple windows with multiple tabs, for those with more than one monitor. Other favorite features include Active Directory Sync, so I’m always up to date with the estate; robust credential management, so I can use minimum access accounts when necessary; and third-party tools integration, so access to our other sites and web interfaces is really easy. It’s the first piece of software I install when I rebuild an admin machine and if I could hug it I would!” Another colleague named Kevin says that Devolutions has the best RDP app hands down. “They even have a free version. However, their enterprise version allows you to store all connections in a database and share them between coworkers. It supports more than just RDP. They have integrated with PuTTY, websites, Cisco ASDM, and many other vendors and technologies to support their connections. My team’s productivity went up the day we implemented it.” Another IT pro named Kevin summarized in a list the numerous remote connection protocols supported by Devolutions: “It supports multiple protocols including Apple Remote Desktop, Microsoft Remote Desktop, SSH Tunnel, Telnet, VNC, SSH Shell, TeamViewer, FTP, FileZilla, and so on.”

For penguin-lovers: NoMachine

NoMachine

Some of us also use Linux within our environments even though our primary infrastructure is based on Windows Server and our client machines are mostly Windows. While Devolutions might be a good solution in such cases, another product that several of my colleagues use and recommend is NoMachine. “I have recently been moving to Linux for various tasks,” says Peter. “A gem for multi-platform remote access is NoMachine. It’s a Terminal Services-like remote access solution for Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, and Android. It’s fairly professional but not widely talked about as far as I can tell... An undiscovered gem. It’s a commercial fork of the previously open-source ‘NX’ technology.” Peter explains that “If you have to deal with multiple platforms, it’s a great option. It also has quite a few advanced options like easy file UL/DL and USB device forwarding (I understand). It’s highly performant — very comparable with RDP performance — maybe even better. Linux users who persist with VNC-based solutions don’t know what they are missing out on. There is NO comparison.” Peter added to this by sharing that he was currently “in the middle of running an experiment where I do all my Linux development on a graphical desktop on a Google Compute Engine instance, that I access from wherever I am. If I want 12 CPUs or 64GB of RAM today — I just reconfigure the VM temporarily and pay a few more cents per hour. And the machine always has the fastest connection to the Internet you could imagine. NoMachine costs just cents per day, particularly since I shut it down when not in use.” As an aside, he also adds that “there is also X2go, which is another open-source fork of the same underlying technology.”

What RDP do you use and recommend?

What kind of remote connectivity product or solution do you use for your own business or organization? Use the commenting feature below to share your expertise with others who read this article.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of both WServerNews and FitITproNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies. He has written more than a thousand articles and has authored or been series editor for over 50 books for Microsoft Press and other publishers. Mitch has also been a twelve-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in the technical category of Cloud and Datacenter Management. He currently runs an IT content development business in Winnipeg, Canada.

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Mitch Tulloch

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