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How to troubleshoot remote and virtual desktop connection issues

There are lots of reasons that remote and virtual desktop connection issues come up because there are so many components that make the technology work. Learn some of the most common reasons for connection troubles and how to fix them.

Remote and virtual desktop connection issues are a pain for users and the IT department. They interrupt employee workflows and create more work for you.

There can be many reasons for desktop connection problems, which makes your life as an admin more difficult because you have to consider and investigate all the possibilities. Good old process of elimination can help here; if you can rule out potential reasons for connection problems from the start, you don't have to waste time troubleshooting them.

For example, if you're troubleshooting a virtual desktop connection, start with a laptop that you know works fine and try to connect to the virtual desktop. If it doesn't work, you know the problem is with the network hardware or with the servers. That's just one place to start, however. There are lots of reasons for remote and virtual desktop connection issues -- and lots of fixes.

What's the difference between a remote desktop and a virtual desktop?

Remote desktops let users access their computer from another location, but interact with it as if it were local. Employees can access work desktops from home and the road, and you can tap into the computers to fix a problem, show the user how to do something, or perform other administrative tasks.

Virtual desktops are desktops that are stored on a remote server. Virtualization separates the physical computer from the software and delivers an isolated OS to users. On the user end, this is pretty similar to remote desktops. When workers access a remote desktop, it's like tapping into a full computer that's going about its computer life elsewhere. When employees log into a virtual desktop, they're receiving an operating system and applications that live in the data center. Both remote and virtual desktops use protocols to connect to sessions, and both can have connection problems.

What causes remote and virtual desktop connection issues?

The most common reasons for remote and virtual desktop connectivity problems stem from exceeded capacity or issues with networks, firewalls, SSL certificates and network-level authentication. Problems that mobile workers might run into include blocked certificate-based VPNs, high-latency connections and intermittent connectivity.

How do I fix connection problems?

If you've run out of capacity, desktops or licenses, that's obviously going to create connection problems. Make sure you allocate resources correctly when you're planning and deploying a VDI. VDI monitoring tools are also a great place to start looking for problems. These products scan your environment looking for problems. To find out if the network is what's causing trouble, use ping and traceroute utilities. Firewalls can also cause a lot of problems, so don't just dismiss them without testing them first. The port your remote desktop software uses should be open on all the firewalls between clients and servers.

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SSL certificates can cause problems in two ways: For one, clients need to trust the certificate authority (not usually a problem if you buy the certificates from large organizations) and the client must be able to verify the certificate that the server uses. To alleviate network-level authentication woes, you might have to upgrade client components or disable the feature on VDI servers or through Group Policy.

To help mobile workers, deploy a multi-entry VPN and make sure one entry doesn't have a certificate. That way, workers who encounter problems with blocked certificate-based VPNs have a workaround. To deal with latency, do a network assessment in the planning phase of your VDI deployment, otherwise you'll probably have to reconfigure network routing tables or replace lines later. Lessening the instances of intermittent connections will require either VDI save states or application auto recovery.

This was first published in June 2014

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