Servers

Managing servers and other systems from the iPhone

Server administration can be a 24/7 job, but who wants to be tethered to a laptop all the time? Scott Lowe tells you about an iPhone app that can help decouple the administrator from the server and make life a little easier.

How do I love my iPhone? Let me count the ways... okay, maybe just one way for this post.

I've done a lot of remote server work, and I've found that RDP is my best friend. Recently, we were working on a particularly grueling upgrade that required a few minutes of typing followed by long stretches of processing interspersed with quick messages that required user acknowledgement. It was those intermittent messages that kept us stuck at the server keyboard.

Then, hunger hit. My work partner and I decided that we needed food pronto; neither of us wanted fast food, and we also didn't want to leave the keyboard for fear that we'd waste a bunch of time eating when we could have been acknowledging inane messages on the server console.

There's an app for that.

I downloaded the WinAdmin app from the iTunes App Store, and we were suddenly decoupled from the keyboard. We had freedom of movement and everything! There are other RDP client applications available for the iPhone, including the iTap RDP Client, but I like WinAdmin.

When WinAdmin is started up, the Favorite Servers list pops up and provides the user with a way to either select a previously added server or add a new one. In the screen below, you can see that there is a server named Ts eagerly awaiting a connection.

The Favorite Servers list provides one-tap access to a remote server.

When you add a new server to the list, you can provide a number of options (some required and some not), including the connection name, host name, user name, password, resolution, color depth, and more. I don't recommend using the username and password fields unless you also use a strong password to lock your iPhone.

Adding a new server to WinAdmin.

Once you select a connection to establish, you'll see screens identical to the ones you'd see if you were to connect to the server with a regular desktop client. The screens are smaller, but you can simply drag the focus to the desired portion of the window.

In the next screen, you see the Windows Server 2003 login screen. Below that is what you see if you need to send a [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] to the remote machine. Bring up this menu by tapping the Gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. To bring up a keyboard to type a username and password, tap the ABC icon at the top of the screen.

The Windows Server 2003 login screen

Use the Gear icon to send a keystroke to the remote machine.

Once logged in to the server, you can navigate around any way you like by dragging your finger over the screen. You probably won't want to do any super-heavy lifting on the small screen, but this software is a perfect solution when you need to keep things going while away, or you want to check up on a reported problem while you're out of town.

A look at a Windows desktop

With WinAdmin, you can open multiple connections, too. Tap the little box icon next to the ABC icon and choose a new favorite server from which to connect.

Change WinAdmin windows

The full screen experience is preferable to the mini-screen on the iPhone, but WinAdmin has saved my bacon a couple of times.

Want to keep up with Scott Lowe’s posts on TechRepublic?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

26 comments
techrepublic
techrepublic

sorry to be negative - but i've been using a windows smartphone to do this for years (it's built in to Windows Mobile devices) - and with 6.1 you can even RDP to a different port, for the paranoid that don't like opening default ports.

johncburgess
johncburgess

The concept that any "professional IT admin... would walk away during a software upgrade, because they were hungry... Would be enough for me to terminate your services alone. The idea that you might compromise a software upgrade by inadvertantly entering an incorrect response, or mispelt response on your i-phone, or a mobile cell dropout... which could lead to corruption, and a subsequent need to restart the upgrade... The possibility of transmission of a virus from an infection from your facebook or myspace account... Possible monitoring, hacking, cracking of username/password or other data by governement agencies, competing businesses, criminal elements or general scumbags... The idea that you might even have the temirity to charge me for your i-phone usage... Or suspend the upgrade, or delay required responses, while you twitter, text, or answer personal calls... I wouldn't even trust you to change the water coolers in my organisation with such a caveliar attitude to my business and your responsiblities

johndecoville
johndecoville

I shared this with several DBA's and Network Server folks. Cheers! -John

mkelly
mkelly

I have been using WinAdmin for over 6 months... this has been a fav of mine as simple tasks can be completed from home (or other WiFi spot) much quicker than firing up the laptop, launching VPN, blah blah blah. The money I spent on it was WELL worth it.

MH101
MH101

Great article. It shows that even if you hate the app store deal, it can still be very useful and helpful. Not all gadgets and games.

cmumma
cmumma

I love when iPhone users discover something I've been doing on Win mobile for many years. Of course, I would have tethered my phone to my netbook to get a decent sized display and full keyboard (for free). Maybe someday iPhone users will discover that.

addenmobbs
addenmobbs

wow, your employee retention must be.. yourself. I work as an admin and a programmer, I work with industrial clients, several of the top fortune 500 here in arkansas, including walmart (largest private network in the world, every barcode scan ends up in our backyard), so I can say pretty confidently, that you sir, have NO IDEA how business gets done. 1970's called, they want their closed minded, non-multi-tasking users back. I get more done by 8 am then you probably do all day tethered to your keyboard wasting time waiting on prompts. I'm surprised you got out to the internet to read and reply to this post.. your going to have to write yourself up for that later.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

Holymygoodness, where to start... One could take this to the next level and say: "Any _professional_ IT admin wouldn't be running Windows server at all... they'd be running VMS in a cluster to help guarantee uptime & security because even Linux is relatively insecure compared to VMS..." An incorrect response or misspelling is just as likely to happen _at the keyboard_ as the accuracy of the operator is in question, not the input device. Personally, I refuse to use anything but an IBM Model 'M' keyboard... I'm still fairly accurate with crappy keyboards, but much slower. I tend to *triple* check things I enter with "less than optimal" input devices, where I double-check things I do with my IBMs as I can feel myself make mistakes quicker & know to change things before I move on. You can't fault the iPhone for that one. The possibility of a virus or infection from MySpace or Facebook is *higher* if one goes to those sites on the server than anything that might be transferred over from an iPhone as iPhones (AFAIK, I don't have one - AT&T's service _sucks_ in my remote area, and I prefer Palm platform phones anyway) can't run Windows executables. And, with the "The idea that you might even..." all I have to ask is: Are you that paranoid with all your employees, and do you have any left? If you base all your hiring decisions on what a prospective employee *might* do, I doubt you'd ever get past the interview process. If I truly felt that remote access to a server with an iPhone was that serious a security breach, I would make the rule forbidding its use then deal with anyone who broke protocol. Granted, I'd also disable Remote Desktop to all servers, and have a plan on replacing any Windows-based servers with a more secure OS... my point is that the iPhone (or the individual using it) is nowhere near the weakest link in the security chain when Windows is involved.

jbrewer
jbrewer

I would not expect somebody to sit at a keyboard and do repetitive tasks when there are better/easier ways to do it. This is technology after all it is supposed to make things easier and we are supposed to advance that.

val.baranov
val.baranov

It does not worth to express your own 'caveliar' (?!) attitude, this approach could be useful in case of an extreme emergency (you've been paged and response time is 15 min or less) if something is broken and need your immediate assistance. It's better to fix a problem right away (Unix/Linux paging space grows really fast and you just don't have another hour to fix a problem) than have your server to fall down just because your preferred "water cooler technician" (whoever else you work with as sysadmin) is not "ready".

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

I thought, we here in the US had a lock on jerk bosses. You make a lot of assumptions -- I find it difficult to believe you can find anyone WILLING to work for you or evn with you!

ferretfrank
ferretfrank

Let's also point out the fact that you have RDP open on your firewall and this server is now open to the public. That alone makes me cringe......

mgnl
mgnl

Hi, I have been reading all the posts to this article. Just a question, do the default ports have to be open? Is there any kind of security built in for the connection? Thank!

ITSMichael
ITSMichael

iRDesktop is a good free alternative. In fact the server configuration screen looks identical to WinAdmin. While I wouldn't use this as a main source for remoting into servers it is great for situations when you do not have access to a computer. Anyone have experience with some of the more expensive remote desktop apps out there? (Jaadu, LogMeIn Ignition etc) Are they worth spending the extra $25 for what they offer?

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I used to do this from my Windows Mobile device as well... I definitely like the experience with the iPhone better, though.

jbrewer
jbrewer

Just not "officially sanctioned"

mbrunetti
mbrunetti

Firstly, no IT org worth their salt open ports for RDP on their 'net-facing firewall. In my nearly ten years of IT experience, I have yet to see any org, large or small, do something so foolish. iPhones come with a Cisco VPN client... you just put in your VPN settings and you're good to go. We also use WinAdmin (again, while VPN'd in), and it has been a slightly-more-than moderately useful tool for quick administrative tasks. I have set up new mailboxes, altered share perms (took me a bit of time to figure out that you can do a right-click by holding your finger in one place for a couple of seconds), done csv exports, scheduled reboots, applied patches, updated/closed helpdesk tickets, etc... all while RDP'd in via WinAdmin. Again, not doing anything fancy, but for quick administrative tasks, it lets you get the job done anywhere you have coverage. It bears noting that no "corruption" of any kind has resulted from its use... and I have been using it since April of this year.

jbrewer
jbrewer

So no RDP is not "open"

chamblin
chamblin

I love iRDesktop. I received an email from someone in Canada having issues with one of the Citrix servers while I was in a drive through at McDonalds and was able from my phone to VPN, use iRDesktop and reboot the server all from a drive through. very cool. No more "hey, I need to run home and work for 2 mins" any longer.

joel
joel

I recently had a situation where a client had their LOB application crash, and I happened to be at a mall with my wife, at least half an hour from a trustworthy computer. Downloaded iRDesktop, set it up to connect, and had the issue resolved within minutes.... And no need to pay $25 to fix it

val.baranov
val.baranov

LogMeIn is being used extensively for a year and I would not trade it for anything else because of convenience and speed. Extremely good app.

cgray351
cgray351

is that iPhone also supports cisco vpn client. I have been using rdp lite for a year now in tandem with the vpn client to access my network. It rocks!

val.baranov
val.baranov

LogMeIn does not need any ports opened on Firewall, but needs daemon, running on alive machine. This is better than depends on Firewall rules, port forwarding etc. - a question of 'taste' and personal preference.

noeldi
noeldi

Do you also know WinAdmin and iRDesktop? Someone else out there...? PROs and CONs of the three apps?

sharkbot
sharkbot

We use it extensively on all our servers and user machines. I use the desktop Ignition app to log into multiple servers at once, or trouble shoot user machines either downstairs or across the country. Putting the app on my iPhone was so easy, all I had to do was login to my account in the app and all my servers and user machines were already there, didn't have to do anything. I can pull out my iPhone and be in a server in seconds.

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