Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Web Access

Much like Istanbul and Constantinople or New York and New Amsterdam, Remote Desktop was once known as Terminal Server.  To borrow a line from the 80’s Alt-Rock band They Might Be Giants, “why they changed it I don’t know. I just guess they liked it better that way.” No matter what it is called Remote Desktop Services has been a part of Windows Server for as long as I can remember.  Over the years, a lot more than just the name of this rockin’ feature has changed.  Today, Remote Desktop Services includes many features and provides remote access to resources in a number of ways.  In this article, I am going to discuss Remote Desktop’s Web Access feature which allows a user to initiate a remote session using little more than a web browser and also went by another name in the past, TS Web Access.

Remote Desktop Web Access allows users to access a feature called RemoteApp and Desktop Connection from the Start menu or through a web browser.  Road Warriors and teleworkers can also connect remotely to the desktop of any computer on the network that they have Remote Desktop access.  RemoteApp is, in my opinion, one of the coolest features of Remote Desktop Web Services.  RemoteApp allows you to install an application on a server then place a shortcut on the Web Access page or in the Start menu of the client machine and stream the application so it looks like it is running on the local machine.  With Web Access turned on, a user can go to your company’s Remote Desktop Web Access website from a computer at their home for example and connect to a desktop in the office.  Depending on how Remote Desktop Web Access is set up, an administrator can allow users to connect to their computer at their desk, a virtual desktop, or to a secure desktop session running on the server. These features greatly simplify the task of allowing mobile workers to be mobile.

Remote Desktop Services in general have undergone an overhaul.  Microsoft has focused on making setup and management of the services easier.  Nearly all the tools for managing Remote Desktop Services have been integrated into server manager.  The Quick Start option for deploying Remote Desktop Services makes setting up Remote Desktop Services and publishing RemoteApp Programs on a single server quick and easy. Additional high availability features now allow the solution to be more scalable and eliminate a single point of failure that could bring a large deployment to its knees.

Remote Desktop Services are not free though they are already a part of Windows Server.  Additional licenses must be purchased in order for your employees to keep rockin’ through the work day no matter where they are.  Licenses can be purchased in blocks of 5 at a minimum and can be either per device or per user.  I generally recommend per user licensing for most installations, because it allows a single user to connect from different devices, whereas per device licenses will allow only certain licensed devices to connect. This will be important to consider when planning how to implement Remote Desktop Services in your environment.

Remote Desktop Services are a powerful tool when trying to give your mobile workforce access to all the resources they would have in the office on the road.  I would recommend looking into Remote Desktop Services  to any of my clients considering letting users work from home or on the road.

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