Remote server control – RDP or KVM?
When it comes to server control it’s important to have access from anywhere. Whether stuck in traffic, or away from the office, servers can be controlled from anywhere in the world from a web browser. This can be done through either RDP (remote desktop protocol) or KVM access (keyboard video-monitor mouse).
RDP allows access to a server’s desktop direct from a PC by presenting a graphical interface on the PC that can be interacted with. By running RDP, a window in the user’s PC pops up and shows what is happening on the server they are trying to access. This window can be interacted with to perform actions and commands on the server remotely.
Historically, a KVM switch allowed for multiple computers to be controlled from – as the abbreviation suggests – one keyboard, video-monitor and mouse. The ‘switch’ part of this used to be much more literal. There would be a physical switch in hand where pressing ‘1’ would control ‘computer 1’, and pressing ‘2’ would control ‘computer 2’ etc. However, this technology has been advanced to allow remote access over the internet, where although the ‘switch’ functionality is still there in theory, it’s more of a button on a screen than a button in hand. This turns ‘KVM switch’ technology into ‘KVM over IP’ or ‘IPKVM’.
Although they sound very similar in principle, there are important differences between the two techniques.
The key difference is that with KVM, the user PC is actually controlling the machine, whereas with RDP, it’s only controlling a graphical representation of the machine. This slight nuance can have larger effects. For instance, because the window displayed in RDP is only a representation of the ‘actual’ desktop, there will likely be a slight lag between commands and actions. This lag isn’t a problem for KVM access because it is controlling the server directly from a PC, without the ‘middleman’.
For management of multiple servers, KVM has a slight advantage. Changing between servers is more efficient with IPKVM, because it’s theoretically as simple as pressing a button to change between servers. With RDP, there are quite a few steps required to change from controlling one server to controlling another, and so it takes more time.
KVM is more useful for troubleshooting network and BIOS issues, because accessing the server through KVM allows unrestricted access to all areas, including the BIOS settings – again, because the PC is actually controlling the machine, instead of a GUI of it.
It’s also possible to perform hardware reboots, and install/uninstall software through KVM. However, this is more difficult with RDP because, unlike KVM, the connection with the server is not direct, and so RDP is often limited to ‘third-party’ access because the requests aren’t coming from the server itself.
RDP is not without use though. Firstly, RDP functionality is pre-installed for free on most Windows devices, which means no additional hardware or software is required. This expansive availability is helpful in an emergency. If something does go wrong with a server, it’s reassuring to know that RDP is available from most PCs and laptops – there is even an RDP app available on both the Android and Apple app stores. All that is required is the IP address of the server that needs accessing, and the login credentials.
For day-to-day tasks like checking backups, monitoring disk usage, and changing account credentials, RDP is often considered as the better option. For more advanced tasks like troubleshooting and installs, KVM is the better option.
So, as part of a remote server control strategy, a combination of both RDP and KVM is the best solution.