How To Pick The Right Remote Support Software
If you’ve ever tried to resolve a computer problem over the phone, you’ll know how frustrating it can be. The person with the problem does their best to explain it, and you guide them through the process of resolving it with what seems like a 50/50 chance of success. Sometimes worse.
A site visit is often out of the question, and even if you work in a dedicated support department, you may be understaffed and too short on time to help in person. So, what’s the answer? Remote support software – with which you can connect to the system, diagnose and fix it, all from the comfort of your own desk.
No two businesses have the same needs, but there’s a huge range of support tools to choose from. This month, we review four solutions from some of the biggest names in the market, namely Bomgar, Netop, NetSupport and SolarWinds.
They take different approaches to providing remote support: one employs a cloud appliance, while the others use a central console to access remote systems.
Access or support?
With a wealth of free remote access software available, it’s tempting to cut costs and use one. However, they have drawbacks since many evolved from the consumer market and lack tight security, auditing, access permissions and other features.
Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop is a case in point. It’s free, but each system requires a Google account, must have the app installed and exchange a 12-digit PIN. It’s easy to use, but lacks auditing and access controls for the remote system, plus it restricts you to simple remote control.
Good remote support solutions provide simple access procedures, but go way beyond this basic remit. Alongside screen sharing and remote control, they provide file-transfer utilities, text or two-way audio chat services, Registry editors and controls for rebooting the remote system. Some scan the remote system when you connect and provide a list of installed applications. Others collect this information and then store it for reporting and analysis. This aids the troubleshooting process, with support staff immediately understanding the hardware spec and what’s installed on the user’s PC.
Most remote support solutions require an agent to be deployed on the remote system, through which support staff can access and control the machine. Some, which may require the agent to be permanently installed, provide facilities to push this from a central console, making deployment simple.
If you need support for a large number of systems, look for those products with built-in deployment tools. NetSupport Manager is a good example, as its Deploy tool can be used to scan the network and silently push the agent to selected systems. Its custom scripts then determine which support features will be available.
If you’re unhappy having an agent permanently loaded, consider the products that provide an on-demand agent. This is loaded only at the start of the support session, and is removed upon completion.
Look, but don’t touch
Poorly configured remote-support solutions can leave a gaping hole in your network perimeter. In its 2015 “Global Security Report”, Trustwave claimed 28% of the data breaches it investigated were caused by weak remote access security. You need to make sure that only authorised staff can access systems.
Security is a key consideration, and all of the good products have a range of features and authentication methods. Network endpoints aren’t the only security consideration, though: you may want to limit what your support staff can do. There’s a huge difference between screen sharing and full remote control, so look for products that can restrict these functions and only allow specific people to use them.
Whether you want staff taking control of systems with sensitive or personal information is another issue: the implications may not be only a matter of trust but also compliance with data-protection regulations. All four products can, therefore, limit what may be accessed.
Windows is the prevalent desktop operating system in most businesses, and there's no problems connecting to Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 workstations.
You may want OS X on the guest list but support for the latest version, El Capitan, to be patchy. The Bomgar and NetSupport OS X agents worked fine, and DameWare uses the built-in VNC Viewer, but Netop said support was still under development.
Most Linux distributions are supported, but you can’t remotely control iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones: the use of private apps is in violation of Apple’s terms and conditions. However, you can use your iOS device as a mobile support desk. Bomgar, NetSupport and (to a lesser degree) Netop offer free apps that can be used to view, connect to and control remote systems.
If your support department has service-level agreements, you’ll want to ensure your chosen product has auditing features that can log all calls, activities, chats and resolutions. Even better is the facility to record sessions.
The right remote support solution will benefit businesses and boost productivity. We do recommend some training, though, so that your users understand it’s there to make their life easier, and not for you to spy on them.