Saturday, June 22, 2013

Remote Desktop Protocol vs. Virtual Network Computing

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Today’s business world is surely a multi-platform one and more and more work than ever is being done from home or the road on a variety of mobile devices. So we need as much help as we can get when it comes to switching between computers and accessing information remotely. There are currently two methods of remote accessing virtual desktops: one uses a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Client and the other uses Virtual Network Computing (VNC). There are similarities between the two solutions but enough differences to make it worth a more detailed look at which is best for your needs.

It’s all semantics

RDP is semantic and provides users with a graphical interface to access a computer over a network. It is aware of graphical primitives such as fonts, graphics and controls. RDP renders a screen over a network not as an image which would be very data-intensive but by using the basic information of these primitives. As an example, RDP doesn’t send an image of a close button on a window but instead sends information such as the location and colour of said button. VNC transmits the mouse and keyboard actions from the user’s computer to the host desktop and relays graphical screen updates back to the user. The VNC protocol is pixel based which is an advantage when it comes to displaying any type of desktop but is much less efficient at transmitting this display over a network than RDP which can understand the underlying graphical layout of the desktop. VNC has been described as akin to a ‘streaming video’ of a desktop.

Productivity and security

The VNC is not a great choice for doing productivity type work as it is relatively inefficient due to the large amounts of data it requires to be sent over the network. RDP lets you interact with the desktop as if you were using the computer directly resulting in a much more intuitive experience. VNC can be very simple to use as long as you’re on the same network as your local client but security is an issue. VNC uses Remote Frame Buffer to transmit information which is not in itself a secure protocol. As such VNC is usually ‘tunnelled’ over an SSH or VPN connection for an added level of security. However, if you want to access another computer without the protection of a company’s firewall then RDP is certainly the best option. RDP client providers usually offer integrated security that bypasses the need for VPN or SSL.  


RDP is tightly coupled with the Windows platform and computers running on Windows Terminal Services. VNC however is platform-independent. Considering that Windows is still the standard operating system for most businesses, this isn’t too much of an issue as it’s providing access to Windows systems from other platforms such as Mac and Linux systems that is essential. A significant drawback of VNCV is that it doesn’t support audio streaming, so if you work in a business environment where listening to audio is essential then RDP is the only option. RDP also has the advantage of now offering access solutions that run directly within a browser, removing the need for any client software to be installed and expanding the range of RDP solutions to almost all mobile devices on all platforms.  


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