Networking

Radmin's tools simplify remote administration of Windows NT/2000

Famatech's Remote Administrator (Radmin) is a small but full-featured remote management program. In this second of two articles, Jason Hiner describes Radmin's tools and discusses how the program can facilitate remote Windows administration.


In my previous article, I introduced you to Famatech's new Windows remote administration software, Radmin (Remote Administrator). I explained how to install it and discussed its security features. In this article, I’ll offer a more in-depth look at Radmin’s features and point out some of its strengths and weaknesses.

Radmin consists of two pieces, a client and a server, and both can run on the same machine. The client, or “viewer,” is the program you’ll use to connect to other machines running the server. The server is the background service you can install on a machine so it is always available for connections from other machines. Radmin provides five tools for connecting one machine to another:
  1. Remote control
  2. Remote desktop view
  3. Telnet-like remote command-line interface
  4. Remote file transfer
  5. Remote shutdown/restart

Let’s take a closer look at each of these five tools.

Remote control: The need for speed
Don’t assume that Radmin’s diminutive size means it’s not a full-featured program. In fact, it includes features that are lacking in much larger programs. Radmin’s remote control feature mirrors similar traits in PCAnywhere, Virtual Network Computing, and other packages, with one notable improvement—speed. If you connect from your workstation to another computer on your LAN, your experience on the other computer will be virtually in real time. Forget the click-and-wait experience that you have with other programs—the speed of Radmin will allow you to work quickly and efficiently.

Radmin’s documentation claims that LAN speeds reach 100 to 500 screen updates per second, while modem speeds reach 5 to 10 updates per second. The bottom line is that Radmin performs significantly faster than other remote control programs. In a LAN environment, if you connect to another machine and go into full-screen mode, you’ll find it easy to forget you aren’t at your own workstation.

Remote desktop view
If you’ve used other remote control programs, you know they can be helpful troubleshooting and support tools. However, there are times when you may want to look at a user’s screen without taking control. That is where remote viewing comes in. In Radmin, this feature allows you to open the screen of another user in a window on your desktop. At that point, what you see in the window is exactly what they see on their screen.

Remote file transfer
Radmin also lets you connect to a remote machine in file transfer mode, as shown in Figure A. This mode provides you with full file-management capability on the remote machine with an interface similar to the Windows Explorer.

Figure A


File transfer mode can be very handy for replacing missing files and making other changes at the file level. This is another feature that comes standard on most remote access programs, but again, Radmin’s speed is a great advantage.

Telnet-like CLI
Radmin includes a remote command-line interface (CLI) similar to Telnet, shown in Figure B. Radmin even refers to this module as “Telnet,” but the server service doesn’t provide a standard Telnet server you can connect to on TCP port 21.

Figure B


For security reasons, I was pleased to see that the feature doesn’t put a standard Telnet server on the machine when you install Radmin. The remote CLI essentially gives you access to the command prompt of the remote machine. The CLI server won’t run on a Windows 9x machine because of Windows 9x limitations in the command.com interpreter.

Shutdown/restart feature
Another useful and unique part of Radmin is the remote shutdown feature, shown in Figure C. This feature enables you to shut down, restart, or log off a remote machine.

Figure C


With shutdown and restart, you will obviously be disconnected from the remote machine; if you want to reconnect, you’ll have to wait until the machine reboots. However, because Radmin runs as a system service, you can stay connected if you log off the machine. This allows you to log off and log back in as a different user—very useful if you need to log off a user and log in as an administrator to install software or make restricted system changes.

Summary
As you can see, Radmin offers a number of important advantages over other remote access programs. The greatest advantage is its speed. No other remote access package I have used is even in the same league with Radmin in this category.

The other major plus is Radmin’s security features. The integration with Windows NT security, the IP filter options, and the fact that Radmin uses 128-bit encryption make it quite secure. The full-screen view is a nice feature, and I have been thrilled with the ability to log off a user and log back on as an administrator on remote machines.

Nevertheless, Radmin does have a few weaknesses. Unlike VNC, it works only on Windows machines. So I still use VNC to connect to Macs and UNIX boxes from my Windows 2000 Professional desktop. And unlike solutions such as PCAnywhere and LapLink, you can’t directly dial into a machine over a modem with Radmin. You have to set up dial-up networking to receive incoming connections through Windows if you want to use a modem to connect to Radmin.

There are also a couple other things that aren’t major problems but that are more annoying than anything else. When you connect to a remote machine, you must specify which of the five tools you want to use. If you want to use another tool simultaneously, you have to make a separate connection. In addition, you should use full-screen view only when the remote machine is running the same screen resolution that you’re running on your machine. Otherwise, the graphics quality is quite poor.

All things considered, Radmin is an excellent program. It is small and fast, while being robust and full-featured. It provides the kind of integrated remote administration that many administrators have always longed for in Windows NT/2000.
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