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Understanding remote desktop connection management tools

With the influx of remote work, it's no surprise that organizations need a way to access and manage remote user desktops effectively. A few types of tools factor into this effort.

Secure and efficient remote access to desktops is essential for IT admins and help desk technicians, and built-in Windows tools and third-party alternatives can help.

Remote desktop connection management tools are vital for modern IT automation and management. They are considered critical infrastructure elements and usually tie into other key IT investments, including DevOps, governance and compliance, and IT resource management.

There are many reasons that an IT administrator would need to access a user's desktop remotely. It may be to perform management or update tasks or troubleshoot an issue. Microsoft's MSTSC command line and third-party options such as TeamViewer, RemotePC or LogMeIn allow IT to access and control a remote PC from a local desktop.

But admins can benefit from more powerful and capable tools that go beyond basic remote access. Specifically, remote desktop connection management tools can help IT manage multiple connections to remote desktops across an organization.

Understanding RDCMan

Unlike basic remote access tools, a remote desktop connection management tool offers important additional functions such as the ability to "remote into" another desktop without taking over from its current user. This can be invaluable when providing tech support, showing the remote PC user how to perform certain tasks or undertaking guided troubleshooting exercises.

Remote desktop connection management tools are vital for modern IT automation and management.

More importantly, remote desktop connection management tools usually permit admins to set up and manage remote PCs in bulk rather than on a one-at-a-time basis. For example, the SysInternals Remote Desktop Connection Manager, or RDCMan, tool can manage all PCs in a group with a single command. Note that in 2020 Microsoft briefly discontinued RDCMan because of a vulnerability but revived the tool in 2021.

RDCMan allows admins to view remote PCs in a group via thumbnails and show live actions for each active session. Remote PCs can inherit their logon settings from a parent group or a credential store such as Active Directory. Account passwords for lab machines can be stored and managed in one place using RDCMan, and they are encrypted for enhanced protection.

Other typical activities that remote desktop connection management tools support include the following:

  • file transfer from the local or client PC to one or more remote PCs; and
  • remote execution of batch files, PowerShell scripts and executable files.

This latter capability enables admins to download and run profiling tools, collect resulting data, and automate further configuration settings, software installations and more. In short, this opens an entire toolbox of other software to support provisioning, maintenance and troubleshooting for remote PC access.

Other options for remote desktop connection management

Beyond RDCMan, Microsoft and third parties offer various software options to provide remote desktop access and connection management.

The ability to remotely access and manage desktops is available in different forms across various Microsoft suites. Organizations can use Autopilot, for instance, to set up and preconfigure new devices for delivery to end users. Its cloud-based Intune platform provides desktop and mobile device management.

Microsoft Endpoint Manager offers a full spectrum of capabilities focused on PC management and remote desktop connection management. It can tie into Microsoft's Endpoint Configuration Manager for organizations seeking an integrated tool to manage both on- and off-premises end-user devices.

Microsoft Endpoint Manager can integrate Intune, Autopilot and Configuration Manager with Microsoft's Desktop Analytics and a full-blown Device Management Admin Console. Smaller organizations can start with Intune and Autopilot and then adopt some of the other tools as their device count and management needs grow.

Microsoft isn't the only option for remote desktop access and connection management. Third-party commercial alternatives are also widely available, including ManageEngine, SolarWinds, Kaseya and Kace Desktop Authority. This technology niche is active and important enough to support entire software ecosystems.

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