The unexpected joy of Windows admin from a tablet

Windows' Remote Desktop is a lifesaver for IT admins, but a new breed of mobile tools may be a better option

The day after Microsoft made its big announcement about the Windows 8-based Surface tablet, I received a big box from Microsoft. I was superexcited and thought, "Microsoft sent me one!" The box did indeed contain a tablet -- an awesome one. But it was a Samsung Slate with Windows 8 Release Preview preinstalled.

It's not the Surface tablet (I'm still hoping Microsoft will send me one when they're ready -- hint, hint!), but it was still a great opportunity to see how Windows 8 performs on a touchscreen and on a tablet. What was the first thing I downloaded and configured? Remote Desktop.

[ Robert L. Scheier surveys the cornucopia of mobile tools available for IT, and Brian Chee chooses the best IT tools on the iPad. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

I have systems all over the place: desktops, servers (Windows Home Server 2011 and a Hyper-V server running all sorts of systems), and remote servers with companies I consult for all over the country. I typically jump in through either a remote desktop protocol connection or a virtual network computing connection like LogMeIn or GoToMyPC. I'm flexible, as long as it gets me to a desktop where I can work with the administration tools.

However, more mobile apps are being developed that make it unnecessary to remote into a desktop; you can use a tablet instead. Many of these tools even work from my smartphone, which I don't use for remote desktop because the screen is too small.

For example, AdminBridge's FeatherNet lets you manage Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, Hyper-V, and VMware from iPads, iPhones, Android devices, and Windows Phones. The connection is encrypted through SSL, with server access governed by Active Directory policies. You pay $15 per month to use the tool with no limit on managed entities.

It was clear that using FeatherNet on a mobile device wouldn't let me do everything I can do with a desktop-based remote connection. But I could do all those annoying things that come up when I'm usually not at my desk: handling a user's forgotten password, creating a mailbox, and so on.

If you're looking for a mobile tool that can do more, consider Solarwinds' Mobile Admin (you may know it from its earlier owner, Rove, which had been previously named Indiguro). It costs $695 per seat, but it provides access to more than 40 IT tools -- including PowerShell, File Explorer, Performance Monitor, Services, Exchange, and Active Directory -- from iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and BlackBerrys. However, it doesn't run on my Windows Phone.

Personally, I love the remote-desktop approach to remote IT management. But I can see how being able to perform common IT administration tasks while on the go from a mobile device can take the stress off admins at a time where they're expected to support people in multiple locations at once.

This article, "The unexpected joy of Windows admin from a tablet," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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