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Server administration with visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2

If you need a tool to manage additional protocols, or if you want to be able to share a single administrative toolset with the entire support staff, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 is worth a look.

In response to my TechRepublic tutorial about Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection Manager, a number of members posted comments about which tool their organization uses for server administration.

One tool I decided to learn more about is visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2. The current version of visionapp Remote Desktop was born through the combination of the open source tool mRemote and the then current version of visionapp Remote Desktop. Since this conglomeration, the open source mRemote is no longer under development; all development activity is now focused squarely on the commercial visionapp Remote Desktop tool.

Available in free and pay editions, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 enables admins to connect to servers using these connection methods: RDP, ICA, VNC, SSH, HTTP, and Telnet. If you ever identify a need for an additional protocol, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 can be extended to support that new service, too.

What sets visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 apart from some other tools is its ability to share connections between many desktops; it can also save all connection information into a database so that many people in the department can reuse the connection. With this feature, connections only need to be set up one time. The sharing feature is available only in the product's pay edition. The free edition can be used by individual users in a standalone way and can manage up to three concurrent connections. This makes it somewhat limited but still useful.

In this tutorial, I will walk you through the process of installing and configuring visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2. I am working with a trial version of the product's pay edition. visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 starts at $99 and goes down in price as you add more administrators.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic gallery.

Installation and initial configuration

To start the installation process, double-click Remote Desktop 2010 R22010R2_withSqlExpr_inclPatch3.exe. You will get an installation screen like the one in Figure A. (I don't display every program installation screen, since they're all pretty much like any other installation.) Note: If you prefer to install the product without shared database support, install using the Remote Desktop 2010 R22010R2_inclPatch3.exe executable instead. Bear in mind that this installs the program in a single-user mode that doesn't allow connections. Figure A

The Remote Desktop 2010 R2 setup wizard
During the installation process, you're asked to provide some user information and to decide where you'd like to install the program (Figure B). Figure B

Choose an installation location
Once installation is complete, execute Remote Desktop 2010 R2 by going to Start | All Programs | visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 | visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2. Upon this initial execution, you will see a screen that indicates there are no environments configured for the client (Figure C). This is the first place where it becomes evident that the program's dialog boxes have been translated from another language, as the grammar leaves something to be desired. That said, the program functionality is fantastic. Figure C

More configuration steps are required
To add a new environment to visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2, click the Add button and, from the shortcut menu, choose Database. The database houses all of the details for an environment (Figure D) and allows visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 environments and connections to be shared by multiple users. You can use the included SQL Server Express to store these environments, or you can use an existing SQL Server. Or, if you like, you can skip the database altogether and just use visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 yourself. For this article, I'm installing the SQL Express database. Figure D

Add a new database
Adding a new database starts a Create Database Connection wizard. On the first screen of this new wizard, I selected the option to create a new instance of SQL Server Express (Figure E), which includes a new database to house the visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 environment. I also indicated that I want to use the evaluation license and that I'll connect directly to the database after it's created. Figure E

Create a new database connection
On the second page of the Create Database Connection wizard, provide the name of the database (the default is Remote Desktop 2010 R2Db2010R2 for this version) and the password that you want to use for the SQL Server Express sa account (Figure F). Figure F

Provide specific database details
Once you provide overall database information, it's time to drill into some of the details such as naming the visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 environment and providing credentials that will allow the tool to access the database. I stuck with the defaults except when it comes to choosing a password (Figure G). Figure G

The Remote Desktop 2010 R2 database access screen
The Remote Desktop 2010 R2 database creation process installs SQL Server 2005 Express. Figure H gives you a look at installation progress. Figure H

SQL Server Express installation progress

Using visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2

Like most tools in its class, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 requires administrators to create connections to individual servers in order to operate. visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 natively supports the use of RDP, ICA, VNC, SSH, HTTP, and Telnet for server connections. In Figure I, you see the General tab for the default connection parameters window on which you can choose a connection protocol and a number of other general connection parameters. Figure I

Default connection parameters General tab
In the Credentials tab, you can provide login details for the server connection. In Figure J, notice that I provided personal credentials named HyperV1 for this connection; I could also have simply reused parent folder or default credentials. Figure J

This connection uses personal credentials
If you're wondering where that credential named HyperV1 came from, here's the answer: On the screen in Figure J, I clicked the New button, which displayed the dialog box you see in Figure K. In this dialog box, I provided all of the information necessary to use this login credential, including user name, domain name, and password. Figure K

Private credential properties
In Figure L, you see that the RDP tab contains numerous configuration options. If you've used remote desktop connections to Windows servers, these options should look pretty familiar. On this tab, you can configure the RDP port, which defaults to 3389, the "experience," which allows you to decide how much data you want to push down the RDP pipe, local device access, audio settings, color settings, and keyboard behavior. Figure L

Connection properties RDP settings
Many organizations use a Terminal Server Gateway to access desktop machines using RDP. If your organization does, then the RDP Advanced tab in Figure M is for you. This is where you can configure your TS Gateway settings. On this tab, you also get to choose server authentication options. What do you want the client to do if authentication verification doesn't meet policy? Figure M

Remote Desktop 2010 R2 RDP Advanced tab
Since not every organization uses RDP, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 includes native support for other connection protocols such as Citrix ICA. If you have ICA servers in your environment, the ICA tab provides you with connectivity options, which include encryption level, appearance (color depth), and how you'd like to handle local devices and remote sound (Figure N). Figure N

Choose ICA options
The VNC tool has been available for a long time and has become a very popular way to connect to remote resources. On the VNC tab in visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2, you can decide how you'd like to handle VNC connections to servers on which you've installed the VNC server software. Like the other protocols, you can configure VNC's operating port, authentication options, color depth, and more (Figure O). Figure O

Configure VNC options
For Linux admins who are forced to use Windows desktops, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 doesn't leave you out in the cold. SSH is a fully supported protocol with just a few configuration options, including SSH port and compression (Figure P). The Telnet tab is almost identical to the SSH tab and allows similar configuration of Telnet options (Figure Q). Figure P

Choose SSH options
Figure Q

Configure Telnet
Once you create a new connection, you can establish the connection by right-clicking the object and choosing Connect from the Shortcut menu (Figure R). On this menu, you will also see a number of other options. Figure R

More options
visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 has the capability to import multiple connections from a CSV file or from Active Directory, or you can simply create a single connection to a single server. For this example (Figure S), I create a single connection. Figure S

Create a single server connection
Although you created some default connection parameters earlier, you have a chance to override those properties on a per connection basis. In Figure T, you see that I provided the connection name, the server IP address (you can also use name), and the connection protocol. Figure T

Provide custom connection information
Once you create the connection, it appears in the navigation list on the left side of the Remote Desktop 2010 R2 window (Figure U). Figure U

The new connection appears in the navigation window
A connection is sized to fit the main window of the visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 application. In Figure V, you can see that this window is 780x605. Figure V

The Remote Desktop 2010 R2 connection window
When you're not actively using a connection, you can choose the Overview tab so that you can see all of your connections in a minimized state. Here is a look at this screen (Figure W). Figure W

Connections are shown on the Overview tab

Summary

If you're just looking for a simple RDP tool for yourself, there are other tools that can centralize your connections. However, if you need a tool to manage additional protocols, or you want to be able to share a single administrative toolset with your entire support staff, visionapp Remote Desktop 2010 R2 is definitely worth a look, particularly since there is a free trial.

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...

4 comments
Gis Bun
Gis Bun

App looks interesting but you can tell that they need a real marketing department when they have to follow Microsoft with this "R2" crap.

TSaL
TSaL

Remote Desktop Connection Manager does everything i need it to and its made by Microsoft.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I think that the features that this app offers may be useful but I would have to play with it to see how useful.

SuperDave61
SuperDave61

A few of the most powerful features were left out. I like the ability to be able to log on, log off all users, restart, or shutdown numerous servers or PC's at the same time with one click. It even shows me whose conncted and I can manage users with it. I also like the fact that I can create numerous credentials and set them as a default or use them on the fly. I can manage routers and switches within the same console via the support for multiple protocols as Scott mentioned. I use it to track servers as well and created groups for each type. These can be easily exported to a .csv with name and IP address. If you dont use the SQL integration, you can also backup your connections and send them to co-workers to import. I use this tool daily and consider it one of my most important tools. Microsoft RDP is fine but it has no where near the flexibility and manageability that Visionapp has.