Parallels Remote Application Server 19, convenient: flexibility, security and usability are all improved

Advantages

  • Adds AWS EC2 as a cloud provider
  • User-friendly GUI
  • Enhanced Security Features
  • Improved deployment flexibility

The inconvenients

  • Still in public preview (GA scheduled for August 2022)

Remote and hybrid working isn’t going away, and even organizations that were never interested in VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) now need to offer remote access to Windows desktops and applications, and cloud services are an attractive way to do it.

It still supports the full range of hypervisors you’re likely to have on local, hosted, or cloud infrastructure (Hyper-V, vSphere, Nutanix, and Scale Computing), but the latest version of Parallels RAS adds support for load from AWS EC2 to its existing Azure. Virtual Desktop integration, with automatic scaling as well as cost control options that are even more important for cloud services that charge as you go.

Parallels RAS: virtual desktop hosting

Manage your virtual desktops on AWS as well as Azure and on-premises or hosted infrastructure.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

This functionality is presented in an easy-to-use graphical interface with wizards, drop-down lists and checkboxes to guide you through common tasks, whether you are using on-premises or cloud infrastructure, making the most powerful features accessible to even less experienced administrators. who might not be sure about working in the cloud. portals or relying on the command line. Whether you have a virtual desktop environment or a hybrid setup that mixes on-premises, hosting, and one or more cloud providers, you can manage it all from the same interface.

Parallels RAS: MFA Options

More MFA options help you secure virtual desktop connections, no matter which provider you choose.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

This includes security features such as certificates and MSAs. You can now request a free LetsEncrypt SSL certificate to secure virtual desktop connections directly from the Parallels interface rather than generating a self-signed certificate and having it automatically renewed when needed. This means you don’t have to remember to get a new certificate every 90 days or lock users out if you forget. Parallels RAS already supports multi-factor authentication (MFA) with standard TOTP Authenticator applications such as Microsoft Authenticator and Google Authenticator: now you can use multiple MFA providers or migrate between them, so you don’t have to no need to set up a separate RAS environment if a team wants to use another MFA provider.

One of the main reasons for offering virtual desktops in the first place is to give staff access to applications that only run on Windows, and it’s equally important to avoid getting locked into golden” difficult to update on virtual desktops. is with physical machines, so Parallels RAS 19 adds support for MSIX App Attach (the App-V replacement). Package an application in VHD, VHDX, or the more compact MSIX CIM format (there are tools that will convert MSI installers into MSIX packages that Parallels can import), assign it to a session host, and use tags to version management and you can deploy and update applications without having to make changes to the RAS model. Mark a package as pre-production while you’re testing the latest version of the app, then toggle the tag to Production and users will automatically get that new version the next time the app opens, without needing to log out and to reconnect to get the update.

Sometimes you want users to log out, of course. With cloud desktops, you pay by the hour or even by the minute, and while enabling flexible working is great, you also need to control costs. For teams with core working hours, you can schedule specific server pools to shut down automatically, including a message explaining to users when the shutdown will occur and why. You can configure individual hosts or groups of session hosts to shut down in the evening, restart in the morning for your users, and stay away on weekends to save money.

You can also limit login hours so that someone logging in for five minutes of work before bed doesn’t spin up a pool of servers that stay on all night (this is especially useful if you have users in countries like Germany where there are strict rules on the limits of the hours staff are expected to work). We like the graphical view which clearly indicates when the user can and cannot log in, but the settings interface which is a bit tedious: you can select an entire day or a specific hour to block by clicking, or click and swipe to select multiple hours or days, but we spent a lot of time clicking blocks of individual days and times before discovering these shortcuts.

Parallels RAS 19: Connection Hours

Use logon hours to prevent someone launching an expensive cloud desktop outside of business hours, but expect a lot of clicks.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

With each of these restrictions, you need to notify users when resources become available and when they lose access. Setting logon hours does not log users out unless their session is idle, so if they finish urgent work, they can snooze notifications or extend their session and continue working. You will also need to upgrade all your users to the latest Parallels Client if you set login time restrictions, as previous clients will not be able to login at all.

Having this as a separate option from scheduled power management makes sense because you can restrict hours for specific user groups if you have different shifts or staff in different time zones sharing the same infrastructure.

The interface for selecting users and groups to apply logon hours restrictions is a bit like creating a rule in Outlook, and it shows other places like MFA requirements control, who has access published resources and what connection policies are applied. You can set rules to allow or deny access and filter who they apply to by user, group, gateway, MAC address, device name, operating system and other criteria, and set policy details login by checking boxes from a tree of options that’s easy to navigate. This is the sort of thing that is often handled by complex configuration files, so again this makes it easier for less experienced administrators to take care of managing remote access – which can be a hassle. a big help if you now support many more remote users with the same IT staff.

One of the great things about Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 is that they automatically use peer-to-peer communication for Teams video to avoid latency issues (and reduce load on cloud servers ). If you want similar benefits with other desktop hosting options, you can use URL forwarding in RAS 19 to ensure Teams launches locally: you might want to use it for other sites at high bandwidth or when latency is critical and setting it as a session parameter avoid having to give users complicated instructions for workarounds.

Parallels RAS 19: Architecture

Parallels RAS 19 helps you manage your remote desktop resources and understand your architecture.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

There are other new redirection features, such as selecting which cameras on a Mac are redirected to the virtual desktop, and using folder rather than drive redirection on iOS and Android so users can copy files between their mobile device and the remote computer. It’s also nice to see a native Parallels ARM64 client for the new thin and light Windows on Arm devices. And users will be thrilled with a new feature: email address login discovery. Instead of digging through their messages for setup instructions and creating an RDP connection by typing in what is usually a complex server name, if you set up the details in your DNS TXT record, they can just type in their email address. mail when they open the Parallels client and automatically connect to the correct session host.

Users and administrators will appreciate the improvements in this update, which adds support for the latest versions of Windows Server (removing Windows Server 2008 and adding Server 2022) and other platforms, while dropping the Internet Explorer support for obvious security reasons.

Alternatives to consider

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has taken on renewed importance during the coronavirus pandemic, and several vendors are providing tools and services to deliver it. Two of the main vendors are Citrix and Vmware (NB: Citrix DaaS — desktop as a service — was previously known as Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops).

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