The business buyer’s guide to remote support software

Dave Mitchell

13 Jun, 2018

Whatever size your business is, your support department needs to be responsive. Resolving problems quickly keeps productivity losses to a minimum. Sadly, most support teams are overworked and understaffed. Few companies can afford to have technicians rushing out to examine users’ systems in person every time an issue is reported.

That applies all the more for staff based in branch or remote offices – or, as is increasingly common, at home. A lengthy road trip is a highly inefficient use of resources, and anyone who’s ever tried to troubleshoot over the telephone will tell you what a frustrating experience this can be.

Happily, there’s a solution: remote support software, which lets technicians “take over” affected systems from afar, and investigate and fix problems without leaving the comfort of their own desk.

What’s wrong with free software?

The first question you might ask is whether you need to spend money on remote support software at all.

It’s true that there are a great many free remote access products available, including the Quick Assist tool that’s built into Windows 10. This allows anyone with a Microsoft account to take full control of a remote computer by simply exchanging a six-digit PIN with a remote user, and it can be very handy on the odd occasion when you need to help out a friend or family member.

The NetOp Remote Control agent provides a plethora of useful support tools

For a business environment, however, it’s a non-starter: these free tools can punch a hole clean through your firewall, and are virtually impossible to manage and audit.

However, premium apps are typically designed to be highly secure, with features such as AES 256-bit encrypted connections and endpoint password protection. They can also often enforce access permissions for support staff, allowing you to decide what level of control is permitted for each one. That could be useful if your business offers multiple levels of support: you can allow first-line responders only to passively view a client’s screen, while full remote control is limited to more senior personnel.

On-premises or cloud?

Some remote-support systems are hosted in the cloud by their vendors, while others run inside your company network and are managed by your own IT department.

The on-premises option is most suitable if you need total control over what can be accessed and by whom, and it’s easier to set up than you might fear.

DameWare can use RDP for quick client connections and simple remote control

The only potential gotcha arises when it comes to accessing systems outside the local network. Some packages use a proprietary gateway that links multiple sites together over encrypted links – but check whether this is included as standard, as several only offer it as an option.

If you want to support a range of devices that are spread across multiple locations then a cloud-hosted support solution might be a better choice. These platforms make it easy to access all clients securely from a single web portal, no matter where in the world they’re located.

NetSupport stores hardware and software inventories on its host system

For the best of both worlds, consider a hybrid solution that teams up an on-premises console with a web portal, allowing you to support local systems via a fast LAN connection and use the internet to access remote ones.

Undercover agents

Remote support normally requires a small agent to be installed on client systems, to listen for incoming connections and allow technicians to access the machine. Some systems can provide various functions using Windows’ built-in remote support features, but the key features – such as remote control and file transfer – typically require a proprietary agent.

On-premises solutions typically include tools to automatically push the agent software out onto multiple systems, so you can ensure that all clients are accessible. Alternatively, you can go for an on-demand support approach, where the agent is only loaded for the duration of the session, and automatically removed afterwards. Cloud-hosted solutions often handle this by allowing technicians to send connection requests to the client, possibly by email, who must then allow access.

This ensures that no-one can connect to your client PCs without express authorisation – reassuring, perhaps, if your users are dealing with confidential information. However, it also means that you can’t access remote systems when the user isn’t present. If this is an issue, look for cloud solutions that include an unattended agent which can be loaded permanently on selected systems.

More features

Alongside standard remote-control services, many support products offer a range of useful extra tools, such as a file transfer extension that enables simple drag-and-drop copies between technician and client, facilities for text, audio and video chat between the user and the support agent, Registry editors and session recording.

Hardware and software inventory tools can be very useful too, as they enable technicians to check what’s installed on the user’s PC prior to starting a support session. On-premises solutions can use the host system to store client inventories, for enhanced efficiency and security.

Many products are able to connect to Mac clients as well as Windows systems, although the experience isn’t always as slick. Platforms tend to require the macOS agent to be manually deployed, and advanced features are sometimes unavailable.

And when it comes to iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones, remote control isn’t possible at all, thanks to the operating system’s strict security model. However, many vendors offer free iOS and Android apps that allow you to use your mobile to connect to and control client systems.

Even if remote-support software can’t solve every problem, it can give a huge boost to the efficiency of your IT helpdesk team – and that, in turn, will boost business productivity.

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