Getting remote access to a server is a useful and often vital part of working with them. But is RDP or KVM the most efficient option?
When it comes to controlling a server, it’s important to have access from anywhere. Whether stuck in traffic or working from home, servers can be controlled from anywhere in the world with a web browser. This can be done through either RDP (remote desktop protocol) or KVM access (keyboard video-monitor mouse).
What is RDP?
RDP allows access to a server’s desktop directly 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.
What is KVM?
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’, and so on.
However, this technology has 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’.
What’s the difference between RDP and KVM?
Although they sound very similar in principle, there are important differences between the two techniques.
The key difference is that with KVM, the user’s PC is directly 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 delay between the user’s commands and the server’s actions or responses. 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. RDP requires more steps to change from controlling one server to controlling another, so it takes more time.
Direct vs remote server control
KVM allows for unrestricted access to all areas, because the PC is actually controlling the server machine. As such, KVM is more useful for troubleshooting network and BIOS issues, as it can access and control all of these factors. It’s also possible to perform hardware reboots, and install/uninstall software through KVM.
These more ‘external’ functions are 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.
However, remote desktop protocol is not without use. Firstly, remote desktop 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 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.