Remote desktop access: Hosted Service or Appliance?

Remote desktop tools are the only practical access solution for deskbound workers who are only occasionally out of the office, but should you use a hosted service or an appliance?

It will depend on your specific needs, but here are some of the pros and cons of each approach.

Appliances Pros

The appliance-based remote desktop solutions provide centralized control, which can be beneficial when corporate policy requires user compliance for network access from outside the DMZ. Additionally, there is no need to oversubscribe, reducing the risk of service interruptions and ensuring that even in emergencies each user will have access to their desktop. This maintains productivity for all users, which is especially useful when remote desktop is used in the context of business continuity planning (BCP).

Appliances only require a one-time capital outlay. While the up-front cost may be relatively higher than a managed service, there are no ongoing license costs that could keep adding up, making ROI more easily measurable.

Appliances are typically designed and built for enterprise use, which makes them easy to integrate securely with existing AAA infrastructure. Appliances require no client installation on either the office desktop PC or the remote client PC.

Appliances do not require a new service level agreement to be set up with a managed service provider. Thus, there are fewer potential points of failure, which helps enterprises to ensure a more consistent quality of experience for end users.

Appliance Cons

Most of the advantages of appliances stem directly from the fact that they have been designed for enterprise ownership and use. As a result, IT departments must procure, set up and manage equipment, and in some cases, configure office PCs.

Because appliances require management and upkeep, enterprises must have IT staff on hand to address installation, maintenance, upgrades, and keeping track of users who are authorized to access their office desktop PCs.

Thus, appliances can require an up-front investment of time, effort, and budget, which can be a deal breaker.

Appliances are relatively new so they do not have the managed services track record.

Hosted Service Pros

Hosted services, on the other hand, do not require IT administrators to manage extra equipment, which can be a bonus for small companies. In addition, hosted services require only client installation on the remote PC and on the office desktop PC, which usually requires minimal effort.

Because of the nature of hosted services, customers benefit from low up-front costs. Additionally, because the service manages the equipment and provides technical support, there is usually little IT support required.

Hosted services typically provide a rich and extensive set of support documentation online, as a direct result of their success in the consumer market. Since this documentation is targeted at the individual, specific users can perform troubleshooting and manage their own accounts, thereby bypassing the need to log helpdesk requests.

Hosted Service Cons

Hosted services are subscription-based, typically paid for on a monthly basis. While they generally have low up-front costs, there are ongoing costs the customer must continue paying throughout the life of the contract, which can add up. This is especially true when dealing with larger sets of users.

To ensure that their PCs will be available when they want access from a remote location, employees must leave their office PCs on continuously, even when they are out of the office. Thus, hosted services can end up requiring the organization to pay unnecessary power costs.

Although hosted services do not require hardware management and only require client installation on the remote PC and the office desktop PC, this benefit can end up causing deployment issues in larger organizations, where installing a client on each office desktop PC can be time-consuming, difficult to scale, and generally impractical.

Because hosted services were originally designed for the consumer market, they were architected without the concept of enterprise AAA integration. In order to support AAA functionality for user authentication and authorization, organizations must expose their AAA infrastructure to the service provider, which can increase security risks for the organization as a whole

Another disadvantage is that hosted service architectures remove the ability for businesses to control the reliability, quality of experience, and security profile of the remote desktop implementation. With hosted service, customers must establish SLAs with both their ISP and the hosted service. The hosted service adds another potential point of failure, making it more difficult to ensure a high quality of experience.

Hosted services typically will oversubscribe their services, similar to a telephone company – this keeps costs down and is a realistic way to operate during normal usage times. But similar to a telephone service, in times of emergency, users could experience service interruptions, or problems with the quality of the connection.

In summary, it really comes down to the particular needs of the organization. Both approaches have pluses and minuses, but either will help you maximize corporate productivity by giving the normally deskbound employee a way to work from afar.

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