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Understanding Remote Desktop Service licensing

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Many universities are now making a switch to offer more remote learning opportunities for students. Remote Desktop Services (RDS), also known as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) have seen a sharp increase in popularity over the past year as a result. Remote Desktop Services provide a vital solution to higher education organizations in terms of providing an effective solution for offering off-campus study.

The type of remote desktop licensing required when implementing a remote desktop solution can vary. As the technology around RDS has grown, so too has the complexity surrounding the solution it can offer to organizations. It’s important to understand the needs of your organization in order to find the best solution. From the basics of remote desktop server licensing to other remote working solutions available, this article will provide an overview of RDS and provide information that will help you to decide which solution best suits the needs of your organization.

How does remote desktop service licensing work?

RDS is a component that was originally developed by Windows and has been part of the Windows Server pack since 2008. It allows users on a Windows server to take control of a remote computer via a network connection, supplied through a Remote Desktop Session Host. This means that students can connect to on-campus machines remotely in order to access the software and resources they need.

RDS will allow you to group desktops and apps into a number of RD Session Host Servers and these can be customized depending on the group of students you’re supplying them to. This means you can supply students from a certain course with the specific apps they need for their course.

To make full use of RDS and provide remote desktop session access to other users through a Windows server or other operating systems, additional licenses need to be obtained. In short, if you are connected through a network, you will most likely need a license to access features such as file sharing. This is known as a Client Access License (CAL) and is a key which grants users’ entry into a remote desktop connection.

Every user that wants access to these features through the RDS will be required to have their own license. Moreover, in order to access these programs and features, a Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) is required. The RD session host allows for shared programs and privileges remotely and can even allow access to software through devices that could not normally support them.

The different types of remote desktop service licensing

Obtaining the right remote desktop licensing for your remote desktop services is important because it is designed to be implemented to work for organizations of all sizes. In short, you need more licenses for more users and devices in the network and each license has a cost attached to it.

There are two different types of license available, and your choice of license will depend on how you would like to use the RDS. Every user that connects to the Remote Desktop Session will require a client access license (CAL). When each user tries to connect to the RD Session Host Server, the license server determines whether an RDS CAL will be required.

Below are the main differences between to the two types of remote desktop services CAL.

Some key considerations as to the pros and cons of managing campus computer labs:

Per Device CAL Per user CAL
  • Licenses are physically assigned to each device
  • CALs are tracked by the license server
  • Licences can be tracked regardless of Active Directory membership
  • You can revoke up to 20% of CALs
  • Temporary licenses are normally valid for 52-89 days
  • Licenses cannot be overallocated
  • Licenses are assigned to users through the Active Directory
  • CALs are tracked by the license server
  • RDS licenses cannot be tracked within a workgroup
  • You cannot revoke any CALs
  • There are no temporary licenses available
  • You can overallocate licenses but it will breach the Remote Desktop licensing agreement

Generally speaking, if you have more devices than users, particularly with roaming users, then it is advised to go with per user CALs. If you have more users than devices, then per device CALs should better suit your needs.

Factors to consider when choosing a remote desktop services license

The remote desktop license you choose for your organization will depend on the needs of students and IT staff. The number of users regularly accessing the RDS, as well as the cost, will factor heavily into any decisions made about licensing. Choosing the right remote desktop session host will play a huge part in how easily students are able to access the resources they need.

Intended use of the environment will also need to be considers, as there a limitations to the level of access users are given when using an RDS. There are other options available such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) which may better suit your organization.

Ultimately, the needs of the staff, students and organization as a whole are the factors that will decide which RDS license to choose.

How does RDS licensing compare to licensing for other remote working solutions?

As we have already mentioned, there are other channels which allow desktop virtualization, such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. VDI works by running users through a virtual machine that is hosted on a data centre. When using VDI, every user has their own virtual machine with its own operating system. This allows users with uninterrupted access to their own environment and allow them to install applications as well as receive administrator privileges, all isolated from the rest of the network. In certain cases, such as when there is a need for segregating confidential data, VDI is a great solution.

Overall, when compared to VDI, RDS is a much simpler set up, with new users being added quickly. In comparison, VDI requires a skilled provider to set up users on new virtual machines, which can take a considerable amount of time. The simplicity of RDS is also a downfall in some scenarios, as users cannot make full use of the operating system through installing applications and the system is shared across the network. This helps to keep costs down, making RDS a more cost-effective solution in most cases.

There are many factors to consider before deciding on the best remote environment for your organization. As the demand for these services grows, it is important for higher education organizations to provide resources to meet the needs of students, whether they are on or off campus.

Whether you’re looking into RDS, VDI or another remote-desktop solution (for example, application virtualization), it is critical that you understand the needs of your organization before making a decision. Otherwise, you might end up paying more for services that are not needed or lack the appropriate access.

If you’d like to find out more about Application Virtualization, RDS, VDI or other remote working solutions, please contact our expert team.