Remote Desktop Protocol was developed by Microsoft, and it’s a secure network communications protocol which allows users to use a computer remotely. It’s the most commonly used protocol, and although it was developed by Microsoft, it can be used by Mac users as well. This article will explain what RDP is, how it works in practice, and go through some pros and cons that might be helpful for IT managers or technicians when considering their use of Remote Desktop Protocol. Strap yourselves in, it’s a wild ride!

What is the origin of RDP?

RDP is an extension of the core T.Share protocol, and allows data from an application to be sent in real-time to multiple other parties, without the need to send the data individually for each endpoint. Even highly encrypted data, such as mouse activity and keyboard actions can be sent using this protocol.

RDP is a really flexible protocol that can support various network topologies, and also supports multiple Local Area Network protocols, although the current version of Windows RDP (Remote Desktop Connection) runs over TCP/IP. If you would like to try different RDP versions, there are plenty available, for example you can try rDesktop for Linux/Unix and Windows, or Oracle’s remote display protocol within VirtualBox which is compatible with all other RDPs but offers some more configurability. RDP relies on a lot of other protocols to function. Below you can see what the RDP protocol stack looks like:

How does RDP establish remote access?

Like any remote technology, the user can be anywhere in the world, and the commands that they enter using RDP will be transmitted to the desktop in question. For MSPs, this can be really useful for remote monitoring and maintenance, allowing businesses to take on clients literally anywhere they want to do business, without needing to be on site.

The way it works is this. The RDP will open a specific dedicated channel over the network, which will be used for sending and receiving data from the endpoint. The network port will be 3389. All data is encrypted in transit so that the connection is secure, but even highly sensitive data can be transmitted over the web using this approach. There are multiple stages to the RDP connection, starting with the initiation and the basic settings exchange, followed by the channel connection, security settings and licensing, and then capabilities exchange and finalizing the connection. All of these steps need to occur before the data itself can be exchanged.

With so much going on, it’s important to realize that you might end up with some latency and delay, so if you’re talking a client through your real-time actions, appreciate that they might not notice the changes as you speak.

What are the benefits of using remote desktop protocol?

There are obvious business benefits from being able to work remotely and access machines wherever they are, such as flexibility, quick and reliable service, reduced costs and more visibility over client or corporate environments. It can also be great for supporting a remote working set up where employees are working from home, which has become increasingly relevant over the past 2 years!

However, there are also some specific benefits to using this method of remote desktop over others. One of our favorite plusses is that you don’t need to use a Virtual Private Network, which often comes with very high bandwidth demands and limited functionality. Unlike a VPN, RDP allows you to gain safe and secure access to files at any time over any connection that you have available, even in low-bandwidth environments.

Another benefit is that data will be stored locally on the user desktop, unlike in cloud-enabled virtual remote desktop environments where data is being stored on the cloud. For highly sensitive data or organizations who have strict needs in terms of security, this could be a gamechanger.

Are there downsides to using RDP?

Like with any technology, using Remote Desktop Protocol can cause some problems, too. Firstly, it can be complicated to configure and install. Windows remote desktop is a simple application to run, but outside of the office network you’ll have to ensure you have the right level of expertise to set up the network to accept the incoming requests, and your client will need to be able to give you the IP address of their server and the right login credentials. Not the easiest solution if your home worker is not particularly tech-savvy for example.
You might also find that users experience some lag or latency issues, as discussed above.

Finally, security is always going to be a concern when it comes to remote desktop protocol and any kind of remote access. However, although previous versions of RDP had been susceptible to some serious security issues, modern versions have upped their game. Remember also that as no data is stored on the end-user device, compliance is not likely to be a concern. Stronger authentication and authorization methods are being put into today’s RDP and remote desktop solutions to ensure that only those with the right credentials or levels of access are able to access a network through RDP.

Alternatives to RDP

If you’re thinking about your options for remote access, Remote Desktop software like AnyDesk or TeamViewer could be a great choice for your business needs. All your clients would need to do is download and run the software, and you can establish secure access for all your remote desktop needs. You’ll also find it much easier to manage, with a lot of flexibility in terms of features and functionality. This independent review of AnyDesk found it the superior choice for security, features such as screen recording and session enablement, and both upload and download functionality compared to RDP.

Both TeamViewer and AnyDesk can be easily integrated with Atera for a seamless IT software experience.

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