I began using Devolution’s Remote Desktop Manager when my colleague and fellow RDS MVP Freek Berson and I were working on a joint project. We both needed access to our personal labs (mine in Seattle and his in Amsterdam) as well as the client’s computers on the North American East Coast. Remote Desktop Manager simplified our cooperation considerably as it provides one interface to manage connection settings for a wide variety of devices and server types such as network equipment, servers, and websites—this is not just a shell for Remote Desktop Client connections. It stores all of the data in an encrypted file or a database. It also takes care of storing your passwords for these environments.

For those of you who have not used an access and credential management tool like this, Remote Desktop Manager houses all of your remote connection, network access and credentials and provides you a tabbed interface (shown below) within which you can open multiple connections at once. This is exceptional for quick access and multitasking.

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Using our shared configuration file, Freek could open a remote desktop connection to my lab servers, access my RD Web Access website, or even make changes to my firewall. It was awesome. Whenever one of us changed any machine settings / password, we’d update the file and throw it back into the SkyDrive (now OneDrive) folder we were using to house project data.

Remote Desktop Manager really helped us collaborate on that project. The only catch was making sure that we were working from the same version of the configuration file… and when you’re separated by nine time zones and trying to get work done, that can be a big catch. Storing the file in the cloud was a start, but still vulnerable to versioning confusion.

Since then, Devolutions has released Remote Desktop Manager Online. Using Windows Azure, it does what we were trying to accomplish with SkyDrive – it securely stores and maintains all of your session access information in the cloud, so that you and anyone else you allow can access the same data, no matter where you are. If you update any connection information the data source is automatically updated. Everyone accessing the data source will use the updated information.

Those of you that already work with the Remote Desktop Manager Standard or Enterprise edition client will be happy to know that you use the same Remote Desktop Manager client. The only difference is that you link to a cloud data source instead of a local one.

 

Getting Started

It took me about 5 minutes to set up an account on the devolutions website. Then I logged into Remote Desktop Manager Online, added my subscription code, and I was ready to add some sessions to access. From the Remote Desktop Manager client (the same client used for Remote Desktop Manager) I signed into my account from the File Menu, thus linking my Remote Desktop Manager client to the cloud data source.

 

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From there, it was simple to import my local XML file that housed all my sessions locally. Once I’d done that, my session data was available in the cloud. I added an account with administrative rights for Freek, and now he can log into the cloud data source and work with the same data I use. The data is encrypted and available only to those with credentials, so I don’t have to worry about exposing my lab, Freek’s lab, or my customer site to intruders.

Once I’ve set up the client, the rest is easy. The client is the same Remote Desktop Manger used in the local version: the connections (with saved settings) are in a tree view in the left-hand pane, and I see the remote connection in the larger right-hand pane.

 

Why RDM Online Rocks

As a consultant, I’ve used many remote access solutions, but Remote Desktop Manager Online has become my default. Here’s some of the things I like about it:

  • If I’m working with a colleague we don’t have to worry about version control, since any changes we make are updated centrally. To update local settings, I just click the refresh button in the client.
  • I haven’t noticed any change in connection speed since moving to the cloud.
  • The logging function lets me see who used the data source sessions and when–each access is time stamped. This is very useful for retracing steps.
  • I can control access to the data. You can organize your connection data into folders and then share only the data you want with a certain user group or user. For example, I could give Freek access to my lab servers, but not to client data. Additionally, I can share data read-only, so my colleague could use the connection data but couldn’t edit it.
  • Your data is encrypted with AES, using either a shared passphrase or an SSL certificate. Read more information on the RDM security provider here.
  • Your connection data is highly available because Devolutions operates on the Windows Azure platform. Read more about fault tolerance and Windows Azure here. You can also backup your data locally using the RDM client.

Constructive Criticism

Because I really like using this product, I want to give some constructive criticism to help make it better. Here are some minor things that we think could be changed:

  • I think the online portal would be better as just a way of viewing data, but not making any changes to it. We can make all changes needed using the RDM client. It is confusing when you have a tiny subset of control online but not all. For example, there is no way to add users to security groups, or add security groups to folders from the online portal. And even though there is a “Connect to session” button offered from the web portal, the result is a message telling you to use the RDM client. Either give all functionality online, or none.
  • The refresh on the client should be a push from the cloud to the client, and a push from the client to the cloud, whenever data changes. Then you don’t have to manually refresh. Or at least give me the option to auto receive changes on some schedule.
  • When I create a user to use my online data source, the user also has to first create and activate an account on remotedesktopmanager.com. It feels like there must be a simpler way to do this, like allowing me to create accounts for my colleagues that they accept via email, or even directly from their Remote Desktop Manager client when they try to sign in to the cloud data source. When you’re working with someone nine time zones away, it’s helpful to centralize the setup process.

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  • Remote Desktop Manager Online doesn’t cope well with discrepancies between the local and cloud data source. When we remove a data source from the online version we receive a confirmation e-mail, which is good. However, this doesn’t remove the knowledge of data source from the local client—you need to manually remove it from the client to be fully in sync with the online version. Additionally, the error message you see doesn’t make it clear what the problem is.

Summary

Remote Desktop Manager Online is great for collaborating with my colleagues regardless of where they are. I can give them quick access to environments, strictly manage this access, and be confident that every consultant has the latest information. Get a trial of their products here.