Remote Desktop Manager – The Pixelated Perspective PP

Remote Desktop Manager's main user interface

As an IT Manager I oversee a relatively large number of remote servers, endpoints, cloud services and infrastructure, spanning across multiple domains. In the early days, (over a decade ago at this time of writing), I got by with a folder of connection shortcuts. Since then my responsibilities and the infrastructure I look after has grown tenfold. Add in the necessities of managing the credentials for all of these items and needing to keep it all secure and highly available, a better solution was sorely needed.

That’s where Remote Desktop Manager by Devolutions comes in to the picture. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working alone or as part of a large team, Remote Desktop Manager (RDM as I will refer to it) scales fantastically. To begin with, RDM is available for both Windows and macOS on the desktop, iOS and Android on mobile devices. Knowing no matter what you place into your RDM database is going to be available cross platform is a huge plus, especially if you have a platform agnostic workforce or allow team members to use their own devices.

Getting Started

Remote Desktop Manager is quick and easy to install, but the first post-installation task will be to create a database. Don’t worry, there are a lot of options which should suit your needs. On the smaller side of the spectrum you can have RDM store everything within a flat XML file or with standalone SQLite. Scaling up you can opt for MariaDB, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Amazon S3 and others besides. Remember, these databases are crucial and will store the guts of your data so no matter which option you chose, please be sure to back it up (!)

Once the database is ready, which in almost all cases RDM will prepare and configure for you, it’s time to add some connections. A running theme in this software is that a plethora of options are available. By right clicking the Navigation bar on the left hand side and selecting New Entry you’ll be presented with the Add New Entry screen.

Remote Desktop Manager -Add new entry

So, what’s on offer?

You can add remote desktop connections for RDP Gateways, SSH tunnels, VNC, Wayk Now, Citrix and TeamViewer. How about remote storage? Support for SFTP, FTP., WebDAV, Amazon S3 Explorer, OneDrive, Google Drive and Microsoft Azure are some of the supported options. You can manage Amazon AWS, Hyper-V, XenServer and VMware infrastructures too, with a simple click to add the entry to your database. With so any options available you’d be hard pushed to find your requirements unmet.

But what if you can’t find something you need? Well, with a little bit of magic you can create your own integrations. A good example would be to describe what I did with Bomgar. There is no native support for starting Bomgar Jump Clients within Remote Desktop Manager at the moment, but Bomgar does provide an API. I therefore created a Command Line entry in RDM, set the icon to that of Bomgar and told it to execute a command on launch. Simple.

I’ve also set up Remote Desktop Manager to help me with other tasks, like managing SQL Server instances. I have a lot of these to maintain, so with SQL Server Management Studio installed and a little more of that magic, I achieved it. (If you’d like to learn more about this, I wrote a detailed tutorial for Devolutions’ Blog which you’re welcome to take a look at).

There are a number of add-ons available should you need them, for items like Barracuda NG Firewall VPN’s, CheckPoint, Cisco AnyConnect, FortiClient and Sophos VPN clients. There is a lot here, but like any good buffet selection you only need to pick and choose the items you want. The rest of it stays out of the way, like any well written application should.

One of the more recent features of RDM is the ability to have documentation amongst your collections of connections. (That’s a mouthful). It’s always been possible to attach files and create text files to act as readme’s but pretty much everything now has a Documentation tab. With this, you’ll find a Markdown supported editor with multiple page support and there’s a global search of all documentation from the View menu.

Security is Key

As with anything managing sensitive information, strong and logical security is key. Remote Desktop Manager employs its own user and security management model made up of user accounts, security groups, Repositories and roles. I won’t go into the individual parts in great detail here, but suffice to say you’ve got granular control over every single item in your database. You can create a security group for Firewalls and permit only those people who need to see and modify connections and credentials protected by said security group. You can give some people Read Only access on the database contents, but give Modify and Delete to a specific set of entries if needed.

If you have Active Directory available you can use Integrated Security for Single Sign On to the database. It’s simple to activate, with the option to enable support within the database connection screen. Then you can add users to the product from the directory, instead of using local application accounts.

Everything done within Remote Desktop Manager is audited, so you can see who accessed a particular connection, when it was accessed and for how long the user was active. In regards to credential auditing, RDM will let you see who modified a password and whose deleted a record. It cannot audit what happens within sessions, but it’s a good starting place to see who might have been looking at something or busy on a server at a particular time.

Usability

From a usability standpoint, Remote Desktop Manager is first class. As new sessions are launched you can either keep them inside the RDM main window with a tabbed interface, or have them spawn separate windows. Sometimes I want to see two remote sessions at once, so I’ll pop one of them out and drag it over to my other screen, which fits really well with my workflow.

If you have a lot of data to manage, then you might want to consider using Repositories. This is a concept recently introduced allowing you to have logical separation of data sets, but they’re still part of a single database. As an example, I have a repository to manage encryption keys. Not everyone needs to see this so I’ve set permissions accordingly. It also has no need to be up front and visible around my day to day stuff, so whilst they’re there if I need them, for the most part the data is out of sight.

What else you should know

Remote Desktop Manager comes in two editions. You can download a free version from the Devolutions website and make use of its many features without spending a single penny. Some of the collaborative options and database types are reserved for the professional edition, but for what Devolutions are asking for a single user license I think it represents good value.

If you’re looking at deployment options, Remote Desktop Manager comes via a standalone executable and as an optional MSI installer, which is useful for system administrators looking to automate the process. You can go one further and customise the installer so when the program is first launched it already has databases and its user interface configured.

As I briefly mentioned at the beginning, there are mobile applications available for both iOS and Android. Whilst they cannot support everything the ‘full’ desktop client can, it’s got a solid subset of features baked in and will be a reliable wingman should you ever find yourself needing a credential or to reach a remote endpoint on the move. It can talk to your central database to keep everything in sync but the app can work standalone as well.

What I don’t like

Remote Desktop Manager is slow to load, even on devices with fast processors and SSD storage. Still, as an application you’re likely to keep running all day it’s a mid frustration rather than a problem. I’ve sometimes had RDM hang on me when I’m connected to a large number of remote connections and then start closing and opening different ones up. It’s rare, but if it ever happens RDM will ask if you’d like to resume your earlier sessions next time.

In Summary

If you’re on the lookout for a product to streamline the way you manage lots of different connection types and credentials, Remote Desktop Manager is the program I recommend. It’s essentially a single pane of glass for managing servers, network infrastructure, cloud based services and all of your sensitive credentials, whilst ensuring only those who need to see the data can do so. It’s an extremely powerful and capable enterprise solution, designed for everyone.

Disclaimer: Whilst I have written for Devolutions before, the opinions expressed in this review are my own and influenced only by my first hands experience with the product.

10 August, 2018