When you are a web developer you are ultimately dependent on server administration. This means at some point you will need to access your web server to update configurations, manage web sites & databases. If you are like me and got into the hosting space you have more to administer than just a web server; including a mail server, DNS, security and so much more.
Because we typically house our servers in some form of a remote data center, you most likely do not have physical access to the machine. Yes, I realize there are thousands of servers sitting under and next to someone's desk, but at some point you still need to administer any machine when you are not present on the machine. For me it always seems its when the movie trailers are over. Today I thought I would discuss a few options for remote administration.
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is my default option because it comes with Windows and gives you complete control to the target machine just as if you were sitting there. Access to mapping remote drives, printers and sounds is available, but I rarely use these features. The Microsoft Remote Desktop software is limited in scope to just the Windows platform. I admit my knowledge of using Linux is extremely limited, but there are remote desktop features either baked into the OS or available in the wild.
Virtual Network Computing
Or VNC as it is commonly known, is a third party remote desktop management tool. The key advantage over Windows RDP is it is platform independent. There are three VNC versions available, free, personal and enterprise. Of course each version has a progressive set of features offered. The personal version is $30 and the enterprise edition is $50. So it is not real cost prohibitive if you need cross platform access.
System Center Operations Manager
Microsoft offers a more enterprise centric approach to remote administration called System Center Operations Manager. This is a tool aimed at the data center management crowd. It provides much more than remote access, but also manages provisioning, security and many other aspects needed to be in control of a data center. It even has some support for managing Linux virtual machines and making corporate data available to Windows 6.1 devices.
Hosting Control Panels
Another popular option is a Hosting Control Panel (HCP). An HCP typically provides a web based user interface that allow you to manage many aspects of your web and e-mail servers. Some of the more popular products include cPanel, Helm, Plesk and OpenPanel.
Each HCP has its own set of features and capabilities. Fortunately Wikipedia has a great breakdown of various hosting control panel solutions support for different platforms, capabilities, extensions and supported backend software.
Typically these control panels are included when you create an account with your hosting company. Often times they are private labeled so you are not aware of the actual panel brand. When considering a host they will often disclose the availability of a remote control panel solution, so you will need to consider that when choosing a provider. You can also purchase a license of the commercial solutions, or in some cases pay a monthly licensing fee. Some solutions are part of the free open source eco-system.
When I first started Extreme Web Works back in 2000 RDP was not really an option. Norton pcAnywhere was the dominate method to remotely access a machine. Today, of course it is called Symantec pcAnywhere. It provides remote access to a wide variety of devices, including various flavors of Linux and Macs. This is a distinct advantage over Windows RDP because RDP is limited to Microsoft platforms.
Citrix XenDesktop & XenApp
Its hard to work for any large enterprise these days without getting one of those RSA security keys and installing some form of Citrix remote access client. Citrix offers several secure remote access tools for enterprises, XenDesktop and XenApp lead the way. XenDesktop virtualized an entire desktop and makes it available from a remote computer. XenApp is not really a remote desktop access tool, but rather will virtualize an application on any desktop.
Consumer Grade Remote Access
Of course there is a wide variety of what I term consumer grade remote access products. I think Cisco's WebEx is the most well known. LogMeIn is another popular tool. Citrix offers GoToMyPC. These products are not typically aimed at the enterprise IT crowd, but more towards product support and remote access for information workers to their desktops.
Remote access to servers and other computers has made the IT worker's life much better because we do not need to physically be strapped to a server. Virtualization and Cloud services could not exist without the ability to remotely access and manage a distant machine or image. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are so many applications available to remotely access desktops. I remember back in college logging in from the command line and executing applications remotely. So what is your favorite remote access tool? What is the craziest situation remote access has bailed you out of? When did remote access just not work for you?