It’s true that we Windows systems administrators have several first-party tools at our disposal for remotely managing Windows servers:
- Remote Desktop Connection (aka mstsc)
- Remote Desktop Connection Manager (aka RDCMan)
- Windows PowerShell remoting
Specifically, RDCMan is very helpful indeed for administrators or service desk personnel because it allows us to manage several RDP sessions in a single window. Here’s a screenshot:
Remote Desktop Connection Manager is a free Microsoft utility.
As nice as RDCMan is, it suffers from some critical weaknesses. For instance, what if your shop includes Linux and OS X servers? What if you need to share your saved RDP sessions with other IT staff members?
Installation and configuration
Go ahead and download RDM 11 Free Edition from the Devolutions website. Installation takes mere minutes, and the installer offers to fetch missing components automatically. Upon first application launch, you’re invited to register the product (again, free). You have 30 days to use the software before you’re required to register with Devolutions, though.
RDM is a traditional “thick client” desktop application that runs on literally any Windows version you have, from XP to Windows 10 and Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 R2.
The user interface makes heavy use of the Ribbon paradigm, as shown in the following interface screenshot:
Devolutions RDM 11 uses the now-common Ribbon interface.
The RDM 11 interface is absolutely loaded with features, so I strongly suggest that you watch Devolutions’ Getting Started videos to ease your learning curve.
Next, we click the New Entry button to define a new remote connection. As you can see in the next screenshot, Remote Desktop Manager includes native support for a jaw-dropping array of remote access protocols!
Need to connect to an OS X Server using Apple’s Remote Desktop Protocol? No problem. Need to go through a VPN to manage a Filezilla SFTP server? Again, no trouble here.
RDM 11 supports an incredible number of remote access protocols. You’re not limited to Microsoft RDP by any stretch of the imagination.
Take a look at the new entry details screen below; I’ll explain each annotation:
Creating a RDP connection profile in RDM 11
- A: We can organize our remote connections into groups (for instance, a group for Windows boxes, another group for Linux servers, and so forth).
- B: If we’re licensed for RDM Enterprise Edition, we can store credentials centrally in a database. Otherwise, we store them locally in this connection profile.
- C: These tabs extend the options that Microsoft makes available in its Remote Desktop Connection client.
- D: Once again, we have full control over the credentials that are attached to this profile.
After we have our new connection, we can (a) navigate to the Edit Ribbon tab, and (b) inspect the myriad tasks that Devolutions makes available to us. Check out the following screen capture, which I’ll explain for you:
After a connection profile is stored, you can do many different things with it.
- A: The Duplicate Entry option is handy if we need to create connection entries for similar servers.
- B: Note that we can export an entry as an .RDP file for easy sharing with colleagues. As we’ll see momentarily, RDM Enterprise Edition is built for teams.
- C: Here we can “dip into” the remote connection and show specific tools.
- D: Again, we can organize our remote entries/sessions for maximum flexibility and ease of use.
As you can see in the following screen capture, you can display the remote computer’s GUI or terminal (depending on the connection protocol) either in a tabbed view (A) or in an undocked, floating window (B):
We can dock or undock remote connections to suit our preferences.
Exploring Enterprise Edition features
RDM 11 Free Edition is all the free RDP client that a single administrator needs, in my humble opinion. However, if you’re part of a larger organization that uses a delegated administration model, you’ll want to consider upgrading to the Enterprise Edition to take advantage of all the team-related features.
You should read Devolutions’ Compare Editions matrix to see exactly what you can and cannot do in the Free Edition. The “biggies” for me are the following Enterprise Edition-only features:
- Credential vault: You can store credentials for sharing and secure re-use throughout the organization.
- Integration with other password managers: You can “plug in” support for popular credentials managers such as LastPass and KeePass directly into your RDM infrastructure. That’s awesome for businesses who are already invested in a credential vault solution.
- Multiple data sources: Instead of using a small, embedded database (like the Free Edition does), you have great flexibility in the back-end database system(s) you choose to store your RDM data and metadata. You can also import connection information (server names, IP addresses, etc.) from multiple data sources into RDM 11.
- PowerShell automation: Devolutions hosts a huge community repository of RDM-related PowerShell modules and commands.
This last point bears a bit more discussion. Devolutions created its own PowerShell snap-ins that enable you to automate just about any RDM management task. You can register and load the cmdlets directly from within the RDM Enterprise console by clicking Tools > PowerShell (RDM CmdLet), as shown in the following screenshot:
It’s a great thing that Devolution added full PowerShell support to Remote Desktop Manager Enterprise Edition.
Notice that all the Devolutions cmdlets have the RDM noun prefix, and all verbs are PowerShell-approved. Good for Devolutions for adhering to PowerShell best practices!
Data sources and credentials
The first thing you need to do after you install RDM 11 Enterprise Edition is get your back-end data source set up. On the Dashboard home page, click Data Sources and then click Add a New Data Source in the resulting dialog box. You’ll notice that RDM uses a local data source by default, and that’s not what we want in a team-based environment.
Look at all the data sources that RDM 11 Enterprise Edition supports. You can even point to a Microsoft Azure SQL instance!
Once again, Devolutions gives us enormous flexibility in how we set up our back-end data tier.
In my lab environment, I connected RDM to a SQL Server 2012 instance and created a database named RDM. Now I can remove the reference to the local data source and be on my way!
We can add, modify, and remove multiple data sources in RDM Enterprise Edition.
We can now step into the “big leagues” by adding a new credential entry to our centralized data vault. On the Dashboard, click Add Credential Entry. As we expect, Devolutions allows us the flexibility of securely storing simple username/password combinations to importing entries from other password management systems.
We can define stored credentials or import them from another system.
From now on, we can associate stored credentials with any new remote connection:
We can securely re-use credentials with RDM 11 Enterprise Edition.
Overall, I’m greatly impressed by Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager. As I said earlier, single administrators in search of a flexible free RDP client should look no further, especially if these admins need to touch non-Windows systems.
The Enterprise Edition should be of keen interest for businesses with busy help desks/service desks where you need staff to make remote connections to systems without knowing the underlying connection details—particularly security credentials.