Remote Desktop is one of the IT administrator’s core go-to tools. While Microsoft has pushed hard for scripted remote management using PowerShell, there’s no doubt that for the vast majority of IT administrators, Remote Desktop is used more often. Remote Desktop gives you immediate access to your remote systems for management, configuration, and troubleshooting. Remote Desktop can be found on the Start menu under Windows Accessories, Remote Desktop Connection for Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. While Remote Desktop is an essential remote management tool, using it has its challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest Remote Desktop challenges.
Managing multiple connections
One of the biggest challenges with Remote Desktop is managing and securing multiple remote connections. Many administrators need to connect to dozens if not hundreds of remote systems which can be hard to manage. You can use RDP files to save your connection settings for connecting to your frequently used systems. RDP files allow you to save both your remote system connection and authentication information. To connect, all you need to do is click on the RDP file. This works great for a few systems but it quickly gets messy when the number of remote connections grows. One way to deal with this is to create shortcuts to the shared folders that contain related collections of RDP connections. You can lock down the access to the folders using Windows share permissions; Third-party Remote Desktop management tools can provide additional benefits for managing and securing large numbers of Remote Desktop connections.
Transferring data to remote systems
Another big challenge with Remote Desktop management is transferring data to the managed remote systems. While Remote Desktop gives you an interactive session, sometimes you want to transfer files and other data to the remote system. One way to do this is to setup file shares that your managed remote systems can access. However, if you have a number of systems with different permissions that can be difficult to manage. Fortunately, Remote Desktop provides an often overlooked ability to connect local disk drives from the system that has initiated the remote connection to the remote system. To enable remote access to the local drives to click the Local Resources tab then go to the Local devices and resources section. Clicking the More button enables you to connect your local drives to the remote session. Expand the Drives node and then check the local drives you want to add. When you open File Explorer in the Remote Desktop session you’ll see entries that look like C on [systemname] where the [systemname] is the name of the system where you started Remote Desktop. To transfer data, simply drag and drop files from these local drives to folders on the remote system.
Printing from remote systems
Like file transfer, printing can be another challenge for Remote Desktop sessions. While printing isn’t the coolest thing anymore, there are still times when you want to get a printout from a remote system and creating and transferring a file containing the print output is more trouble than you might want to go through. Remote Desktop allows you to directly connect local printers to your Remote Desktop session. To enable local printing, click the Local Resources tab then on the Local devices and resources and then be sure to check the Printers checkbox. Next, from the Remote Desktop session on the remote system, use Control Panel and go to Hardware then Devices and Printers and select Add a printer. The local printers on the system where you initiated the Remote Desktop session will be listed. Select the desired printer to install it on the remote system. Then when you print something from the Remote Desktop session choose the newly installed local printer as the print device.
Connecting to Linux and other heterogeneous hosts
Finally, one of the other challenges with Remote Desktop is connecting to Linux and other non-Windows systems. This ability to connect to Linux systems using Remote Desktop varies based on the target Linux distribution which can result in a number of different solutions. For instance, some Linux systems can be connected by Remote Desktop with Putty and the Gnome Desktop, others like OpenSUSE allow xrdp while still others like Ubuntu use xfce. Tools like Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager support multiple remote protocols like Apple Remote Desktop, VNC, and Citrix ICA enabling you to use a single tool to connect to Windows, Linux and other heterogeneous remote systems. They can also often centralize management of your remote connections, passwords and credentials.