There have been many great steps forward in the world of computing: The mouse, the desktop and folder metaphor, object-oriented languages and … well, the list is long and highly debatable. I would like to offer up another entry to this roll call of genius: Remote desktop access technology.
When I were a young un' the only remote access you had was Telnet and you had to walk uphill both ways with barbed wire 'round your feet to get anything done. But I digress.
Today, we have a variety of technologies that allow us to remotely access graphical desktops and see more-or-less exactly what's going on. The only industry to suffer as a consequence of this has been a handful of companies that make tennis shoe soles because people stopped wearing out their footgear quite as quickly.
So, what are your choices? Well, there are, in fact, quite a few products to choose from, with the majority based on either Microsoft's proprietary Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or something called RFB (remote framebuffer), which was developed in 1998 by the now defunct Olivetti Research Laboratory.
The details of the RDP protocol used to only be available under license, but when Microsoft started (grudgingly) to embrace openness, it made the details available under its Open Source Interoperability Initiative.
In contrast, the RFB protocol specification has been open and free since its inception. A more ambitious version of the documentation, announced earlier this year, is also available.
The two protocols are quite different architecturally. While RDP is built into all Windows operating systems as a kernel-level driver that sends display primitives for a Windows RDP client to render, RFB is layered on the top of the system and sends compressed images of screen updates to a RFB client to render independently of the underlying operating system. This means that RDP is Windows-specific while RFB operates cross-platform.
If your shop is like most IT operations you probably use products that are based on both protocols and, where RFB is concerned, you probably use some flavor of Virtual Network Computing, most usually called “VNC” (VNC is both the name of a product line and an implementation of RFB). There are scores of VNC-derived products available, mostly for free, and they all interoperate because they are all RFB-based. How weird is that?
Now, if you have a lot of remote machines to manage then you really need something to make your life easier and I have just the tool for you: VNCScan Enterprise Network Manager for VNC and RDP published by Bozteck Software.
VNCScan is not only a directory and launcher of your VNC and RDP desktop connections, it can also capture remote screen shots into thumbnails, execute scripts on remote computers, install and update remote VNC server components, monitor the up/down state of VNC and RDP, and ping for availability and uptime. As the company claims, “VNCScan is like the Swiss Army Knife for anyone who manages computers on a network.”
The VNCScan user interface allows you to group remote machines (very useful for managing large numbers of devices) and logs all connection activities.
My only complaint: VNCScan's documentation isn't well organized; it's a series of well-written articles but they aren't ordered; you have to search for what you're looking for. On the other hand, I noticed something that Bozteck has in its support articles that few companies bother with: details about which files need to be backed up and how to restore them. Very smart.
What is crazy about VNCScan is its price: $59 for a single admin license and $995 for a full site license. VNCScan gets a rating of 4.5.