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Remote Desktop: An Overview and How it Works

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In the last two years, the need to access anything from anywhere has gained added momentum, which has put the concept of remote desktops right in the center of the stage. Remote desktop services facilitate the need to not be bound by geography or device to get the job done. With employees around the world accessing their work from remote locations, the significance of remote desktops has been steadily rising.

Table of Contents

What is a Remote Desktop?

With the onslaught of the global pandemic, technological acceleration gained momentum purely out of necessity. Overnight, organizations around the world faced the novel challenge of delivering work to where their employees were. There was no workaround for it. Business continuity management (BCM) took on a life of its own in the aftermath of the pandemic. It was no longer only about running the organization by optimizing revenue generation, but also about the fundamental requirements of getting the day-to-day processes done.

The resultant changes in employee expectations and behavior are driving the paradigm shift in how organizations across the world have begun to approach the concept of large-scale remote working. Any employee working from the farthest corner of the world must have unrestricted access to their work. Geography and device cannot be impediments in the process.

This is where remote desktops once again proved to be a very smart cloud-centered solution with no hidden costs and no stray hardware. A very simple definition of a remote desktop is that it is the way for a person to access their unique user profiles from a centralized server through a secure network using any device located anywhere.

A breakdown of the multiple terms in this definition will in itself explain the idea of a remote desktop.

A user profile is the specific configuration for a specific user, including the fundamental preference settings. It means that when you access your user profile on a remote desktop, you work in your own virtual environment that you control and set.

The centralized server is where your remote desktop connection is hosted. Your user profile is a dedicated chunk in this centralized server where all your data is saved. In other words, this server performs the function of the CPU on an ordinary desktop.

The secure network part is quite important. It is imperative that the network you are using — and most definitely, all organizations ensure this — to access your user profile from your remote location is secure. Data integrity is of the utmost importance while working with remote desktops.

A remote desktop does the following things:

  • Lets you access a computer from a remote device
  • Displays the desktop of the device you are remotely accessing from the server
  • Allows you to run all the applications and access all the files installed on the host computer
  • Provides access to the devices connected to the remote computer, like printers and scanners

How Does a Remote Desktop Work?

There are two major components for any remote desktop setup.

One is the data transmission protocol that enables all information to move from one computer to another. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) from Microsoft is an example.

The second is the application that uses this protocol to connect with the host computer, which is installed on both the host server and the endpoint device. Remote Desktop Connection, which leverages RDP, is an example.

When you connect with the host computer or server using the endpoint device, the host device powers the software and the operating system and displays it on your device. The keyboard and mouse inputs are captured from the endpoint device and transmitted through the secure network to the host device, where the data is processed. The output, once again, is transmitted through the secure network to be displayed on the endpoint device.

If you look at it, the whole system works like the old desktop devices with the host device performing the duty of the CPU.

The host device, which the client wants to access, must be turned on if it needs to be accessed. In today’s world, the host device is most definitely a server rather than a computer.

The Evolution of Remote Desktop

The transition to remote work, which seemed so swift and sudden in the wake of the pandemic, was in fact, many years in the making, even decades. According to an HBR article published in 2020 on the future of work from anywhere strategy, the large-scale transition to work from home started in the United States in 1973, when the fuel prices went up during the OPEC oil embargo, making daily commute to office a luxury for the everyday man. Forsaking physical offices for private homes, public libraries and the ever-famous coffee shops quickly followed.

While organizations changed their work and employee policies during the oil crisis, not many had considered a strong future for it. A Forbes survey conducted in 2021 said that 5% of the respondents reported that only 40% of their workforce were working from home pre-pandemic, a number that has drastically changed once the pandemic waves slowed down.

With the wisdom we have gained in the last two eventful years, organizations have been forced to redefine business continuity, agility, and resilience. These are no longer precautions put in place in the event of a natural calamity or a massive power breakdown with business reopening after a short interval. It means ensuring business as usual no matter where, when, or how.

This is the contextualization of remote desktop solutions in today’s world. In the beginning of the millennium, this was the favorite tool of IT teams across the globe to access client devices located elsewhere to offer support services, like fixing a bug. TeamViewer was almost always the chosen one. We have come quite far from this simple functionality to equip an employee to access a corporate server from a remote location anywhere in the world.

In the chaos of shifting to work from home practices overnight when the pandemic hit, most organizations were forced to prioritize the prevention of business disruptions over other matters like data security. The show had to go on, somehow, even if that meant permitting employees to access their work from not-so-secure personal devices on not-so-secure networks. Whether co-related or not, the number of occurrences of hacking and ransomware and malware attacks exponentially increased in the last two years. It was as if bad actors saw an opportunity in a global challenge, much to the dismay of global organizations.

While most organizations ensured business continuity, some of them did end up paying the price. Twitter, Marriott, and Zoom are only a few on the list of notorious data breach victims which grabbed the headlines and sent panic waves across their clients.

Two years down the line, we have learned from our experiences. And with that has come the absolute focus on ensuring the success of remote and hybrid working with a two-pronged strategy: exceptional end user experience and impeccable data security. Enterprises have realized that focusing on these two fundamental aspects will ensure customer experience and satisfaction, which, in turn, decides the fate of any organization.

This is the long route remote desktop solutions have taken in the last decade. They are no longer a support tool prevalent among IT teams but a necessary means for any employee to access their work anywhere, anytime. And that is a very long route.

Benefits of Remote Desktop

Remote Desktop Services have the potential to fuel business continuity and agility simply by moving the focus from maintaining IT infrastructure to the actual business goals. When the resilience and agility that come with digital transformation have become mandatory requirements, remote desktop services can help organizations get to the finish a little bit faster.

Increased Cost Savings
Deploying a large number of devices among your workforce and maintaining them have long been adding unnecessarily to IT budgets. For startups, SMBs, and for large-scale enterprises, end user device management and maintenance are ongoing processes.

Remote desktop services create significant IT savings by enabling an organization to invest in end-user devices that have the most basic configuration. All employees will need to access their work are a stable internet connection and a device that has a browser.
Remote desktop services rely on cloud storage, which means that enterprises don’t need to invest in other storage solutions; they already have the most reliable one in cloud. This comes at a fraction of the usual IT costs.

Great Device Compatibility
Employee behavior has changed in the recent past because of two major reasons. One, the workforce primarily consists of millennials and the oldest of Gen Z, digital natives who prefer a device-agnostic approach to work. Their main focus is getting the job done; on what is not a question that carries much weightage. Two, the pandemic has had far-reaching implications on how and when we work. Work hours are no longer defined by local geographical time zones. This means that accessing work happens not just on corporate devices but on personal ones as well as private mobile devices.

Added to this is the complexity of multiple configurations and models of these end-user devices. While there might be a certain group that uses MAC OS, there will be another that relies on Windows. The same applies to Android and iPhones.

Remote desktop services enable complete device compatibility. In fact, device compatibility is not a point of concern at all since all users need to access their work is to connect their device, whatever configuration and model they may be, to the remote desktop and just start working. The machine they use is moot.

Strong Data Security
The most dreaded threat of a data breach often looms large over organizations and the work from anywhere strategy forced on them by the pandemic has only accentuated it. With corporate data being accessed through a variety of personal devices working on not-so-secure networks, this threat has become even more palpable.

With a remote desktop, all corporate data is secure in the cloud. With a very strong and secure network, accessing corporate data through private devices no longer poses a threat. There’s also the added advantage that since all corporate data is stored in the cloud, device failure will not affect data integrity.

Most remote desktop services offer multi-layered security, which makes your data less vulnerable to ransomware or malware attacks. Throw in end-to-end data encryption to the mix, and your corporate and customer data is as good as locked away behind a stable, strong, secure lock.

Easy Data and App Management
Remote desktop services don’t rely on complex access and data management infrastructure. Employees only have to input their log-in credentials and they can easily access the corporate server.
It helps in process and progress tracking since managers have complete visibility to track their remote workers.

App and data management also becomes easier on any device located anywhere.

Exceptional End User Experience
Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in the way we work has been the recent spotlight on improving end user or employee experience in terms of remote working. Organizations now place a high value on this since a great end-user experience directly affects the quality of work, which in turn contributes to business success.

With remote desktop services, poor device performance, configuration issues, application updates, and other aspects are eliminated, and the end user is free to totally focus on their work.
The ease of access to all their work from anytime, anywhere adds to exceptional end user experience as well, as it ensures workplace mobility, giving them absolute device and location independence.

Common Problems of a Remote Desktop

Remote Desktop Services do come with their fair share of disadvantages. But most of these challenges are almost always solvable and most others are preventable.

Network Failure
Establishing a valid communication or a network path is the most common challenge end users face with a remote desktop session. IT admins can circumvent this challenge through the process of elimination.
The very first thing to do is to try and establish a client session that has been successfully connected to before. This helps the admins to figure out whether the problem is specific to a client or to the network.
If the challenge is with the network, IT admins can then narrow it down to find out the root cause.

Firewall Challenges
This is another common challenge with remote desktops.
Firewall challenges can be avoided by ensuring that the port your remote desktop service uses are open to any firewall existing between client computers and the corporate server.
It is important to remember that some public networks are designed to block RDP traffic; Wi-Fi networks in hotels, airports, and coffee shops are some examples.
Some organizations configure their corporate firewall to block outbound RDP traffic, restricting employees from accessing their home devices through a corporate device while at work. This is for obvious reasons of security.

SSL Certificate Issues
It might sound too simple, but security certificates can also cause failure in remotely connecting with a corporate server. End user devices must trust the certificate authority that issued the certificate to successfully access files on a corporate server. If your organization purchases these security certificates from well-known authorities, this is not a problem. But when organizations generate these certificates in-house, the end user devices might not trust the authority and restrict access.
The solution is to use a reliable security certificate authority.
Another security certificate challenge that occurs is when the end user device is not able to verify the certificate the host server uses. If the certificate has expired, this verification process is more than likely to break down.

DNS Challenges
Believe it or not, many remote desktop connectivity problems have DNS server issues at the root. If the host IP address has been changed, then end users will not be able to connect remotely.
End users might not be able to connect remotely to the host server if they are using an external DNS server as well. IT admins can modify the end user’s IP address settings so that it uses the corporate organization’s DNS server rather than an external one.

Remote Working Trends

Remote work is no longer the temporary arrangement that many people expected it to be when the pandemic began. It’s here to stay for the foreseeable future, and companies must adapt by embracing remote-work trends that will keep their workers productive and happy — whether they are in the office part of the time or not at all.
With that need in mind, here’s a list of the top remote-work trends for 2022 that companies should consider as they prepare for a future in which significant numbers of employees work remotely on a permanent basis.

Optimizing the Remote Employee Experience
When remote work seemed like a temporary arrangement, most companies put relatively little thought into the employee experience, meaning how employees thought and felt about working from home.
They didn’t invest in collaboration technology that would help employees feel connected to the rest of the organization while working in isolation. Nor did most companies deploy tools that provide a frustration-free experience for connecting to IT resources from out of the office. At best, they gave their employees software like a Windows RDP client so they could log into their company workstations from home.

As hybrid and remote working have become very possible realities, companies have begun investing more heavily in activities like virtual coffee breaks, which can help employees collaborate and engage with each other. They have also implemented more user-friendly technologies, such as cloud desktops, which make it easier for employees to access the applications and data they need to do their jobs, no matter where they are located.

Securing Remote IT Assets
A number of new security challenges emerge when workers are connecting remotely. Networks become more difficult to secure because they need to support users and devices connecting from beyond the firewall. Data is at higher risk of being downloaded by employees to local devices that are not physically secure. Even phishing emails can be harder to detect.

Indeed, according to one study, 20 percent of organizations have suffered a security breach since the start of the pandemic that was facilitated by remote workers.
This means that, going forward, it will become critical to secure the infrastructure and software that employees use to work remotely. Centralizing desktop environments in the cloud is one way to do this. When workstations run virtually inside secure cloud environments, data and applications never have to leave the cloud, which significantly reduces exposure to potential attack.

Supporting Peripheral Devices
When employees work remotely temporarily, being able to connect their company-owned IT environments to devices like printers and scanners is not usually a top priority. They can wait until they’re back in the office to print documents. Or they can print a few on their personal equipment at home.
But when employees work remotely regularly, these ad hoc approaches don’t work. Workers need a seamless way to integrate devices in their at-home work environment with in-office servers, file shares and other resources their company owns.

This can be done, but it requires solutions tailored-made for this purpose. As companies prepare to support remote workers permanently, factoring in the need to integrate with peripheral devices will be a priority.

Maintaining IT Hardware
Keeping IT hardware up and running also becomes more challenging when remote work is permanent. Employees may be able to get by with laptops that need maintenance when they’re working from home temporarily. But when they rarely or never go into the office, providing support for physical hardware is much more difficult.

One way to cope with this challenge is to minimize the amount of physical hardware that companies need to maintain. Here again, cloud desktops can help by allowing organizations to provide employees with a complete desktop environment that they can access from anywhere using their own hardware. And because the only resource required to log into the cloud desktop is a Web browser, there is no special hardware or software that the company needs to deploy and maintain on employees’ personal devices to keep them productive.

Keeping Costs in Check
The cost of supplying remote workers with the equipment they need to work effectively from anywhere can rise quickly, especially if companies try to recreate the IT infrastructure of the office within each employee’s home. When they do that, employees sometimes require high-powered desktops or laptops, routers and perhaps even UPS units to keep their devices running.

A simpler — and less costly — approach is to host desktop environments in the cloud, which don’t fail when the power goes off or the router goes down, and which can be configured to provide whichever resource allocations employees need. When employees are assigned cloud desktops, they can access their workstations from any location and device, without depending on special (or expensive) equipment.

Remote Desktop vs Virtual Desktop: The Difference

One of the biggest questions IT administrators face is whether to implement remote desktops or virtual desktops. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer other than it depends on the business requirements. But what is the difference between the two?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) involves the creation and deployment of virtual machines running on hypervisors. VDI is much more complicated than remote desktop environments. On the surface, both RDS and VDI are desktop virtualization technologies. But there are a few significant underlying differences between them.

With RDS, all end users log into the same server interface and while come configurations can be adjusted on an individual basis, almost all end users will have the same user experience.
Whereas in VDI, each end user has their own dedicated platform to work on, which they have the permission to modify. These permissions are usually modified by the IT admins.
RDS is best suited for organizations in which multiple end users need to access the same apps and services. It is also much easier to implement than VDI. While multiple users accessing and sharing applications and files drastically reduces IT expenditure, it does create application challenges.
VDI, on the other hand, is great for organizations where more customization is required for their end users, increasing the complexity levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a remote desktop?
A: A remote desktop is the way for a person to access their unique user profiles from a centralized server through a secure network using any device located anywhere. With RDS, all end users log into the same server interface and while come configurations can be adjusted on an individual basis, almost all end users will have the same user experience.

Q: How does a remote desktop work?
A: When you connect with the host computer or server using the endpoint device, the host device powers the software and the operating system and displays it on your device. The keyboard and mouse inputs are captured from the endpoint device and transmitted through the secure network to the host device, where the data is processed. The output, once again, is transmitted through the secure network to be displayed on the endpoint device.

Q: How do I use a remote desktop connection?
A: Once you have the remote desktop application set up in your home computer, all you have to do is open a browser, type in the URL that leads you to the host server, and hit Enter.

Q: What can you do with a remote desktop?
A: With a remote desktop, you can access your work from anywhere, anytime from the corporate host server.

Q: Is a remote desktop safe?
A: Using a remote desktop is much safer than storing your work on your personal device. Since corporate data is saved on the host server, there is no risk of sensitive data being stolen or corrupted when the end user device is lost or damaged.

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Anunta is an industry-recognized Managed Desktop as a Service provider focused on Enterprise DaaS, Packaged DaaS, and Digital Workspace technology. We have successfully migrated 500,000+ remote desktop users to the cloud for enhanced workforce productivity and superior end-user experience.

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