Remote Desktop vs. Virtual Private Network: Which Should You Use?

One of the major concerns of technology professionals today is to protect users and data from various cyber threats. And just as there are many things to worry about, there are just as many tools to mitigate risks. Two such methodologies are the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Remote Desktops (RDP), which primarily serve to centralize and protect data systems albeit in different ways.

As such, it is not always immediately clear which is going to be best for a business. In this post we will cover the basic functions and applications of these two services, and provide some insight into when a business would want to use one.

WHATS THE DIFFERENCE?

VPN is the means by which a user can securely connect to a server, encrypting their traffic to keep it separate and inaccessible from the public internet. In this sense, VPN can be thought of as extending an office network to the device it is connecting to. Meanwhile, a Remote Desktop is the means by which content can be accessed. It can almost be thought of as an extra-long set of cords you use to connect your keyboard, mouse and monitor to a computer or server at a far-away location. This keeps all workstations squarely within the network environment of an organization.

WHEN DO YOU WANT VPN?

Virtual Private Networks can be used in a few different ways, but the primary function is generally the same: security! As the service is used to extend networks elsewhere, VPN is an important consideration if you have multiple users who work remotely and need to access data, or if you have multiple office locations. Essentially, VPN is a means to extend security across a decentralized work environment. If these needs apply to you, then VPN may be a good fit.

AND WHAT ABOUT RDP?

While the reasons for utilizing a VPN are fairly straightforward, RDP is a little broader in its usage and can be used to solve a variety of different business problems. Overall, however, and RDP solution is used for an organization to achieve greater ownership and control over data, as all work is carried out on a server instead of a computer.

  • That said, one of the main benefits of RDP is Data Loss Prevention. By connecting to a desktop hosted within a company server, the company can restricts a user’s ability to locally download data and risk. For a business contemplating compliance as it relates to data control regulation (HIPAA, SSAE18), administrators can use RDP to enforce data policy, such as preventing virtual workstations from taking screenshot.
  • Another benefit of RDP is that virtual desktop instances do not have to be tied to any one user. This means that a user can simply this way can be helpful to businesses where computer use is limited among some employees, or if the business makes guest computers available.
  • For businesses which have complex configurations set for their devices, RDP allows for saving preset configurations of desktops which can be provisioned at will. This allows administrators to quickly deploy workstations which can be accessed by any device to flexibly meet staffing needs.
  • As the primary computing functions of a virtual desktop occur in the host server, an organization can opt for lower cost devices, since displaying data onscreen and internet connectivity are the main use of hardware. And since data is being kept and managed on the host server, administrators can feel more comfortable taking a BYOD approach to employee workstations.

While providing a great deal of utility, RDP does have the drawback of requiring a constant internet connection to access data. So, a business where users frequently work during travel, such as on a plant or train, may face some obstacles fully adopting RDP into their IT.

Of course, there are always cases where both RDP and VPN should be used. If an organization’s concerns relate to security and compliance, such as a doctor’s office or an asset manager, an approach utilizing both services is the best option. Infrastructure incorporating both services will allow users to securely connect to company data via an encrypted tunnel, and keep all activities within an environment the administrator can control.


4 Comments

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  2. Dipali Matkar

    Both VPN and remote desktop have their own advantages and disadvantages. But I would recommend use of remote support tools like logmein, R-HUB remote support servers, gosupportnow etc. for remotely accessing computers from anywhere anytime because its easier.

  3. I’ve heard that my workplace is going to be investing in a hosted desktop service for our office, and it’s good to know more about how that works and how it could be different from a VPN. Your analogy of how it works like an extra-long set of cords to connect the keyboard really helps me visualize it better, and I can see how it would definitely mitigate the risks of locally downloading data. Having preset configurations for quickly deploying workstations will be extremely helpful as well, because we’ve been shuffling employees to different departments on a temporary basis lately to help catch up on certain tasks and getting everything set up quickly will be great for that.
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