Editor's Note: Since this article was written, Devolutions released Remote Desktop Manager 8.0. The enhancements include a UI redesign, change tracking, new management consoles, credential management improvements, and more.
If you've ever worked at a Help desk supporting hundreds of different customers, you know that unless remote access to their systems has been standardized, you need to keep track of sensitive login credentials and technical details on how to connect. Although this can be done using tools such as Microsoft Excel, this approach is far from ideal, can lead to sensitive information being compromised, and slows down the process of getting help to customers.
Devolutions' Remote Desktop Manager provides support staff members with a secure portal that stores the credentials required for remote desktop access and a launch pad with which to make connections. So, they don't need to search another data source or set up individual VPN and remote desktop clients. Remote Desktop Manager offers many features, including:
- Built-in FTP, Secure Shell (SSH), Telnet, and UltraVNC clients
- The ability to connect to a centralized database for session and credential data
- Integration with external password managers
- Intel Active Management Technology (AMT)
Remote Desktop Manager comes in Standard and Enterprise editions, with the Standard edition being free. It's easy to install and can be distributed using the Windows Installer. Remote Desktop Manager runs on Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP (SP2 or later), Windows XP Embedded, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2003. It requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5.
Setting Up Remote Desktop Manager
When running Remote Desktop Manager for the first time, you're asked to configure security settings for the local XML data source, which is used to store Remote Desktop Manager session and credential information. The information is encrypted using the 192-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). You can provide your own master encryption key or use the default key, which is the recommended option. Alternatively, you can connect to a SQL Server database to retrieve credentials and session configuration. This method offers several advantages, including logging and security controls.
To connect to a remote device from Remote Desktop Manager, you must create a session. There's support for a multitude of different remote access protocols, including Microsoft RDP. Sessions can also be created to directly connect to virtual machines (VMs) running on Windows Azure, on-premises Hyper-V platforms, and cloud-based or on-premises VMware platforms. Remote Desktop Manager Enterprise edition has a handy dashboard that shows the state of VMs running on a Hyper-V server. There are some other session types included that might prove useful, such as support for the open-source Azure Storage Explorer and support for storing Microsoft Word, Microsoft Visio, or PDF documents so that administrators can store and share information about customer systems.
Setting Up a Session
New sessions are quick and easy to create from the main UI, as Figure 1 shows. To facilitate accessing remote devices, Remote Desktop Manager can dial a VPN connection before attempting to connect. It includes support for VPN clients from Microsoft, Cisco, Dell SonicWall, and TheGreenBow, with the option to add others.
Devolutions seems to have thought of everything needed to streamline the workflow of a support engineer. For example, it's nice to see that Remote Desktop Manager includes an option to specify whether to disconnect the VPN at the end of the session. Another nice touch is the automatic creation of a desktop shortcut should you want to quickly access a Remote Desktop Manager session without using the main UI.
Remote Desktop Manager sessions can also be started from the command line. Scripts, commands, key combination macros, and pop-up messages can all be set to run before or after the main connection is established. There are helpful advanced options such as Wait for exit and Run as Administrator . Remote Desktop Manager can even be set to ping a remote host to determine its availability before trying to connect.
You can add information about remote devices to Remote Desktop Manager sessions. For example, you can add the OS version, MAC address, and hardware information, although only the OS version and MAC address can be automatically discovered. Contact information can also be stored, along with general notes and custom fields.
Using Remote Desktop Manager
To connect to a remote device, you need to open the session, which can be done using the Play symbol icon. By default, sessions open in a separate window outside of Remote Desktop Manager, but sessions can also be embedded inside Remote Desktop Manager in tabbed format. Other options include opening a full-screen remote session and opening a remote session in Admin Mode for Microsoft RDP. Sessions can be grouped together, which makes sense if a customer has many remote devices.
Rather than create a separate session for each set of credentials that you might want to use when connecting to a remote machine, you can choose the Open option from the Credential Entry page when starting a session. You can then search the stored credentials and pass the credentials you need to the client access software as it's launched. From a security standpoint, storing sensitive passwords in text documents or having Windows remember them is risky. You still have these options when using Remote Desktop Manager, but it would be better to store credentials locally in an encrypted XML file or a database for central management.
Assuming you have the necessary firewall ports open and remote management facilities enabled on your remote device, the Sessions Tool tab has links to various Microsoft remote management tools, such as Event Viewer and the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Computer Management snap-in. You can open these tools from the local computer without starting a remote desktop session.
Troubleshooting with Remote Desktop Manager
Built-in troubleshooting tools include Wake on LAN (WOL), trace route, and continuous ping. When you choose and run a tool such as ping from the dashboard, the results are displayed in a separate tab. If you run the ping tool again, a new tab opens, preserving the previous results. This is much easier than working with multiple command-prompt windows, especially if you need to troubleshoot multiple devices at the same time. My only criticism is that when you launch certain tools from the dashboard, such as the Computer Management snap-in, there's no indication that anything's happening until the relevant window opens.
Boost Help Desk Efficiency
The Enterprise edition of Remote Desktop Manager lets you connect to a database with stored session information and credentials, which is ideal for large Help desks and getting new support staff members set up quickly so they've got everything they need at their fingertips. The SDK lets you develop add-ons for Remote Desktop Manager. There are a number of free add-ons already available for download.
Remote Desktop Manager is a great tool for support technicians. It's more efficient than managing spreadsheets or text files to keep track of remote connections. The only problem I have is that there's no built-in workflow to allow an external change control department to grant use of credentials stored in Remote Desktop Manager. However, there's a roundabout way -- you can temporarily add a user to a Remote Desktop Manager security group. Alternatively, there's support for Thycotic Software's Secret Server, which is an enterprise password manager with built-in workflow features.
I recommend Remote Desktop Manager for mid-sized organizations that have large Help desks supporting a lot of servers. I also recommend it for service providers that need to organize remote access information for their Help desk staff to connect to different customer sites and systems.
Remote Desktop Manager 7.6