Remote Access Software Overview

Last Updated:
April 11, 2024

Remote Access Software Overview

Remote access software allows users to access and control a computer, desktop, application, or network from a remote location. There are a wide variety of remote access software types to address the needs of different users. The remote access software product you choose will depend on your role in the organization, the responsibilities of that role, your organization’s security requirements, and of course the functionality you need to get your job done.

Remote access software can be divided into two user groups—technical and end user—although most remote access software buying decisions are made by IT, and all these solutions are most often implemented, managed, and supported by IT.

Most knowledge and IT workers will use more than one type of remote access software to do their job.

Remote Access Software for Technical Users

Remote Administration and Automation Tools

Designed for IT administrators to remotely manage, automate, and troubleshoot computer systems and networks. NOTE: this category of software is not designed to enable end user computing support. For IT administrative task automation and configuration management, examples include Powershell® and Python™. For network communication support, examples include PuTTY and MobaXterm, although Powershell also provides some of this functionality. Many of these tools are open source and work with a variety of operating systems or network protocols.

Remote Desktop/Remote Support Software

Allows IT support personnel to connect to and control an end user’s computer as if they were sitting in front of it in order to troubleshoot a problem. Popular software designed primarily for IT support includes LogMeIn® and TeamViewer. NOTE: remote desktop software is used by both technical and end users—by technical users to provide remote support to end users, and by end users to access their work or personal computer from another device.

Cloud-Based Remote Access Solutions

Platforms that provide internet-based access to desktops, applications, servers, networks, storage, and infrastructure running in a cloud environment. With cloud-based remote access, IT teams can install networks, servers, and storage in a cloud environment located anywhere and manage it remotely. For this use case, public cloud vendors like Microsoft Azure®, Amazon Web Services® (AWS®), Google Cloud™, and Oracle® Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) each provide customers with proprietary tools to manage, update, and secure their cloud environment. If the customer organization is using a managed service provider (MSP) to support its cloud implementation, the MSP may use a combination of the public cloud vendor’s management tools plus tools developed by the MSP.

Remote Access Software for End Users

Remote Desktop Software

Allows users to connect to and control a remote computer as if they were sitting in front of it. Software designed primarily for end users includes GoToMyPC® and Splashtop®. Unfortunately, remote desktop software has become a convenient tool for malicious actors in the guise of IT support to gain access to a corporate network or sensitive corporate or personal files, personal financial information, etc. End users should only allow access to their system if the end user has initiated a support request; additionally, most remote desktop software will allow the end user to define access levels prior to allowing access. For example, users can usually deny access view and download files on their computer during a remote desktop session. Finally, end users should turn off/deactivate/uninstall the remote desktop software at the end of a session.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Enables users to access a private network securely over a public network (most often over an internet connection). VPNs create a secure, encrypted connection between the user and the network and help users protect their online privacy by swapping a user’s true IP address for the IP address of the VPN server used to establish the connection. VPNs can also help users bypass firewalls and unlock geographically restricted content. Because VPNs encrypt data and route traffic through a remote server, users may experience connection speed slowdown.

There are three main types of VPNs: SSL VPNs, which are browser-based and allow users to securely connect to private resources; site-to-site VPNs, used primarily by large companies to enable employees on one corporate intranet to send files to employees on another corporate intranet; and client-to-server VPNs, which allow a client from the internet to connect to a server to access a corporate network or local area network. Well-known VPN solutions include OpenVPN®, NordVPN®, and ExpressVPN™.

Screen Sharing Software

Allows users to share their screens or view others' screens for meetings, collaboration, and presentations. Some screen sharing software offers additional functionality that enables IT to view and troubleshoot an end user’s computer. Software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack offer screen sharing capabilities.

File Transfer and Sharing Tools

These tools facilitate remote access to securely transfer and share files. The most common file transfer enabler technology is File Transfer Protocol (FTP), which was developed in the 1970s to transfer files between servers and hosts on the ARPANET network, which ultimately became the internet. Examples of tools that support FTP include FileZilla and Cerberus. Note that some FTP tools support Windows® or MacOS® exclusively. Additionally, most cloud-based file storage solutions provide built-in FTP support, for example Dropbox™ and Box (Business and Enterprise accounts only). Alternatives to FTP include Sharefile™ and MOVEit®, both of which support FTP and other file transfer protocols.

Browser-Based Remote Access

Allows users to access a remote device or network directly through a web browser, without the need for installing software on either device. Another advantage is that browser-based remote access can be used with any operating system. This approach to remote access is primarily used by end users, not IT support. Examples include Google Chrome Remote Desktop, which is a free extension to the Chrome browser, and, which allows the user to connect to a remote desktop via a link for one-time or permanent access. Zoho Assist provides browser-based access to remote desktops for IT support, but is designed for small companies with 25 users or less.

Cloud-Based Remote Access Solutions

Platforms that provide users with internet-based access to desktops and applications running in a cloud environment. Each public cloud vendor provides proprietary solutions for users to remotely access desktops and/or applications running in their respective clouds. AWS solutions for end user access include Amazon AppStream® 2.0, which provides application streaming and virtual desktops, and Amazon Workspaces, which delivers virtual desktops. Microsoft Azure solutions for end user access include Azure Remote Desktop Services and Azure Virtual Desktop. Google Cloud’s solution for end user access is Chrome Remote Desktop. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) solutions for end user access include Oracle Secure Global Desktop and OCI Secure Desktops.

In addition to proprietary solutions, some public cloud vendors partner with software companies to provide remote access solutions that are optimized for their platform. For example, Google Cloud supports Azure Virtual Desktop and Citrix DaaS™ for Google Cloud; AWS supports the running of Microsoft 365® apps; OCI supports Microsoft Remote Desktop Services.

Additionally, virtual desktop and application publishing software like VMware Horizon® and Citrix DaaS will work in any public cloud environment, but due to their complexity will require considerable integration effort. In contrast, GO-Global® is optimized to deliver Windows apps from any cloud, and is easier to install and implement than complex and expensive solutions from VMware® and Citrix®.

If you’re a Windows ISV looking for a solution to deliver your application to customers from any cloud, consider GO-Global, which works on any cloud with far less complexity and cost than solutions from VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft®.

Windows applications published using GO-Global require less IT implementation and management effort, scale more economically, and provide users with a web-native experience. Additionally, GO-Global leverages any cloud services’ existing infrastructure and security and scalability features to deliver advanced functionality with less complexity and lower cost.

To learn more, request a demo here or download a free 30-day trial.