How to choose the right remote support software

Find out how the right tools can slash costs and boost productivity

Every business needs fast and effective IT support. Whether you're a huge enterprise or a tiny startup, you can't afford to have staff sitting around unable to work owing to technical hitches.

Delivering that support can be a challenge, however. It's expensive to have technicians personally visit users' desks every time they have a hardware or software issue – and that model is stretched even further by the growth of remote working. Telephone support meanwhile can be frustrating and ineffective, as the technician tries to resolve problems without being able to see or get their own hands on the misbehaving system.

Remote support software is the perfect solution. It instantly gives agents full access to troublesome workstations, without their having to be physically present. They can diagnose and fix problems from the comfort of their own desk – and with cloud-hosted solutions you can extend support to anywhere with an internet connection.

Here we lay out some of the options available to help you make the right choice for your needs.

Support is in the house

If you're looking for total control over your remote support services, an on-premises solution is your answer: the management software runs on a server inside your own local network, providing centralised management for all the systems in your business.

The catch is that things can get complicated when you need to provision access to systems outside the office. Some on-premises support products use a proprietary gateway that links multiple sites together over encrypted links, but check whether this component is included as some offer it only as an optional extra.

Walking on clouds

The alternative approach is cloud-hosted remote support. This is a great option for businesses with remote offices and workers, as you can register and connect to all systems in exactly the same way, regardless of whether they're inside the office or on the other side of the country.

Even better, nothing needs to be installed at head office. Support technicians can log in to their personal cloud portal from wherever they happen to be, and initiate a remote-access session with any registered workstation with a few clicks. End users can authorise the connection by entering a unique code supplied by the technician.

If all of that sounds tempting, some Virtual Cloudsviders offer free starter accounts so you can try the service for yourself: unsurprisingly, though, these packages come with a limited feature set and are usually restricted to one technician account. To enable multiple technicians and features such as file transfer, reporting or portal branding, you'll need to pay for a subscription.

If you're not entirely sold on either support model, hybrid solutions do exist that combine on-premises and cloud support service in one product. This can be a bit more complicated from a management perspective, but it gives you the best of both worlds.

Licensing schemes

Before you choose a remote support solution, it's worth spending some time assessing your needs, and comparing the licensing systems used by different vendors. Some may be based on simultaneous support sessions, while others are billed according to how many minutes you've used or how many clients you want to support.

Look at contract lengths, too. You can save cash with a rolling yearly contract, but if you're still testing the waters, you might want to look for a service that offers pay-as-you-go monthly billing with easy contract exit polices.

Another thing to check is what extra tools are available alongside regular remote control capabilities. A built-in inventory tool can speed up troubleshooting, allowing technicians to see what's installed on the user's PC prior to starting a support session. It could prove helpful for other projects too, such as auditing your workstations for outdated software.

And don't forget to think about platform support. Most products focus on Windows, so if you have a mix of desktop devices, you'll want to check what other platforms are supported. While many remote support systems include support for macOS, we've found that most provide a reduced toolset, and some require agents to be manually installed and configured before they can be accessed.

Thanks to iOS' strict security model, it's impossible to remotely control iPads and iPhones; however, many vendors offer free iOS and Android apps that allow you to use your mobile device to connect to and control client systems – potentially handy for allowing your support staff to work on the move.

Safe from harm

Desktop remote control is a powerful tool, and it comes with some inherent risks. If a malicious intruder manages to connect to an employee's workstation, they have free rein over your network, just as if they had physically broken into the building.

For this reason, we'd discourage you from relying on free tools such as Windows 10 Quick Assist, Windows Remote Desktop or Chrome Remote Desktop. These are fine for helping out friends and family, but their security features are relatively limited.

All four products on review this month use a combination of security measures, including 256-bit AES encryption to stop hackers snooping connection traffic. Endpoint agents can be password protected, and some integrate with Active Directory for stronger user authentication. Remember that technician access needs to be strictly controlled, too: check for features such as web portal two-factor authentication, and facilities for granting access to specific groups of end-user devices.

A final reason to use professional remote support tools is their auditing and logging capabilities. Those might sound dull, but to comply with GDPR legislation, businesses processing sensitive data need to be able to demonstrate that security controls are in place and functioning properly.

In all, remote support can make your helpdesk team – and hence your entire business – more efficient and productive. All of the products on review offer a wealth of valuable features and strong security, so read on to see which one suits your business requirements best.

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