Using Remote Desktop Services What can go wrong and why...

28/04/2014

Microsoft’s Remote Desktop application has been around in one form or another for over 20 years. It is a technology for delivering a desktop or applications of a remote PC or server to your local computer. Previously it was called Terminal Services and some technicians still refer to it by this name. It is presently the best of what we have even though it was never originally built to handle the purposes for which we use it in 2010.

When a Remote Desktop connection is made to a Remote Desktop Server at the other end, a connection is established which is dependent on a regular, consistent and speedy transfer of data packets between the two machines. The better the speed of connection, the more responsive the server at the other end ‘appears’ to be and hence a more ‘local application experience’ for the user.

However, there are a large number of obstacles between the end user’s computer and the hosting server, all with the ability to impact adversely on the user experience.

Here’s the technical bit.

Computers send data to each other in ‘packets’, just like a Post Office delivers packets or parcels to your home. Computers however, break up communications like an email into many thousands of packets which follow paths all around the world before all coming together again at the other end and forming a whole email.

As an example, if you send an email to a friend in the next street, several thousand packets of data representing that email will have travelled all over the world in different directions before arriving at your friend’s email application ready to read.

This is the important bit… if any packets are lost along the way; the receiving computer sends a message back to the sending computer and asks for the packet or packets to be resent. This can occur many times and hence the reason some email takes 30 seconds or more to arrive at your inbox. Packets of data are constantly being sent and resent based on packet loss along the way. To you the end user… that last email just took a few seconds longer and you don’t notice anything different. The same applies with a web page. Until the whole email is ready to be opened or until the whole web page is ready to be displayed, packets of data are travelling back and forth until the whole bundle is in place and in the right order.

Remote Desktop works differently. When you establish a Remote Desktop connection to a Remote Desktop server, a constant ‘stream’ of packets is required between the two points in order to enjoy the best experience. If for any reason there is a substantial ‘packet loss’ event while connected to the server, the user will experience what appears to be a ‘freezing’ of the session. Packets are not arriving in a consistent manner at this point. The server however, experiences a disconnection with the user and records it as a ‘disconnection’, just as if you have closed the connection deliberately.

At the server end, there is a difference between a ‘Disconnected’ and a ‘Logged-Out’ session. It is possible to be ‘disconnected’ from the server but still be ‘logged-in’. Once you re-establish the connection to the server, provided the server still has you ‘logged-in’, you will see exactly what you saw at the point you lost your connection.

MYOB Premier on the other hand, generates a ‘lock’ file (extension .flk) and because your Remote Desktop session has disconnected, the server still has you ‘logged-in’, MYOB Premier hangs on to this ‘lock’ file (thinking you are still using MYOB Premier) restricting your ability to get back into the application. The only resolution to this event is to have every MYOB Premier User ‘logout’ of the application and Remote Desktop session which clears the ‘lock’ file. Users can resume using the application by re-establishing a Remote Desktop session and logging back into your MYOB data file. (This event does not happen with the other multi-user MYOB Premier Enterprise versions)

Server disconnections and packet loss can happen for various reasons such as interference, routing, distance to the exchange and strength of signal, poor cabling and even the quality of the service provided by your Internet Service Provider. As we all know, broadband Internet quality varies between providers and will vary depending on how it is configured between your modem and the telephone exchange.

The best example of a technology which makes ‘packet loss’ apparent is VoIP or Voice over Broadband Internet Telephony such as Skype. When someone at one end says “…hello, how are you?” and you only hear “…hello , how you”, this is an example of ‘packet loss’. Somewhere in the route between the two Skype users a packet or more was lost and there is no point in resending the packet because the conversation would not make sense. That’s the way it is designed.

To get the best experience from a Remote Desktop session, you need to eliminate all the factors likely to adversely impact on your experience. Get the best ADSL Internet available in your area, ensure all cabling and connections are solid and in good quality, make sure routers and modems are reasonably current and have the latest updates to their firmware and don’t overload the connection. If you have 5 users hanging off a 1500/256 ADSL connection, some downloading, some emailing some browsing and one person is getting disconnected from their Remote Desktop session, you should probably upgrade the bandwidth.

It is also possible that factors beyond your control will adversely impact the Remote Desktop experience. If this is your case, and you have done all you can to give yourself the best chance of success, then Remote Desktop is not the answer for you. Unfortunately, until we get better Internet in this country, this is the reality.

On the whole, Remote desktop will work successfully for most users under most circumstances but like all technologies, external factors will have a bearing and your ability to influence those factors will determine whether it is a technology that suits your business at this point in time.

Like all technologies, Remote Desktop and the Remote Desktop application on your PC are constantly changing. Microsoft has recently updated the application again and I strongly recommend you upgrade your version to the latest. The links to the downloads can be found here:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/969084

Download the latest version applicable to the operating system… it might just be the one thing that helps make Remote Desktop work better in your environment.

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