What Is Remote Access?

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In broad terms, remote access can refer to two separate but related purposes for accessing a computer system from a remote location. The first refers to workers being able to access data or resources from from outside of a central work location, such as an office. 

The second type of remote access you may be familiar with is often used by technical support organizations, which can use remote access to connect to a user's computer from a remote location in order to help them resolve problems with their system or software.

Remote Access for Work

Traditional remote access solutions in an employment situation used dial-up technologies to allow employees to connect to an office network via telephone networks connecting to remote access servers. Virtual Private Networking (VPN) has replaced this traditional physical connection between the remote client and the server by creating a secure tunnel over a public network—in most cases, over the internet.

VPN is the technology for securely connecting two private networks, such as the employer's network and the employee's remote network (and can also mean secure connections between two large private networks). VPNs generally refer to individual employees as clients, which connect to the corporate network, which is referred to as the host network.

Beyond just connecting to remote resources, however, remote access solutions may also enable users to control the host computer over the Internet from any location.

This is often called remote desktop access.

Remote Desktop Access

Remote access enables the host computer, which is the local computer that will be accessing and viewing the desktop of the remote, or target, computer. The host computer can see and interact with the target computer through the target computer's actual desktop interface—allowing the host user to see exactly what the target user sees.

This ability makes it especially useful for technical support purposes.

Both computers will need software that allows them to connect and communicate with one another. Once connected, the host computer will display a window that displays the target computer's desktop.

Microsoft Windows, Linux, and MacOS have the software available that allows for remote desktop access.

Remote Access Software

Popular remote access software solutions that let you to remotely access and control your computer include GoToMyPC, RealVNC, and LogMeIn.

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection client, which allows you to remotely control another computer, is built into Windows XP and later versions of Windows. Apple also offers Apple Remote Desktop software for network administrators to manage Mac computers on a network.

File Sharing and Remote Access

Accessing, writing to and reading from, files that are not local to a computer can be considered remote access. For example, storing and access files in the cloud grants remote access to a network that stores those files.

Examples of include services such as Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, and Google Drive. For these, you are required to have login access to an account, and in some cases the files may be stored simultaneously on the local computer and remotely; in this case, the files are synced to keep them updated with the latest version.

File sharing within a home or other local area network is generally not considered to be a remote access environment.

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