May 11, 2020 | Remote Access

Will the Remote Access Dashboard Work for You?

Schools have quickly moved to distance learning environments around the world. The LabStats Remote Access Dashboard can help facilitate a remote connection between campus resources and student computers.

7 min

Practically overnight universities around the world have closed campuses and switched to distance learning environments. 

Many schools have found ways to provide remote access to vital campus resources through remote desktop gateways and VPNs. This is no easy feat to set up and deploy, and we applaud those who have built new infrastructures, taken new security measures and opened up budgets to connect students with the resources they need in short order.

Many still face an outstanding need of solving for real-time availability.

That’s where LabStats comes in. The LabStats Remote Access Tool is a dashboard that can be used by students to find an available computer on campus in real time. 

Although every school’s solution to alternative, remote and distance learning is different, over 150 schools across the US, UK, Canada and Australia, New Zealand and Ireland have already adopted the LabStats Remote Access Tool. 

Check out some of the common questions regarding the Remote Access Tool below, to see how it can work with your unique alternative learning environment. 

Does the LabStats Remote Access Tool work with…

VPNA VPN connection isn’t required, but it is supported.
RD GatewayThe use of an RD gateway isn’t required, but it is supported.
RDPThis is the default connection for Windows.
VNCThis is the default connection for Mac.
Apache GuacamoleConnection supported.
TeamViewerConnection supported.
WindowsRemote connections to and from Windows computers are supported using RDP, Apache Guacamole, and TeamViewer.
Mac (macOS)Remote connections to and from Mac computers are supported using VNC, Apache Guacamole, and TeamViewer.
Chrome OS (Chromebook)Remote connections from Chromebook computers to Windows computers are supported using RDP.
LinuxConnections to Linux computers are not possible. Connections from Linux computers may be possible using Apache Guacamole and TeamViewer. Contact us if you’d like to explore Linux options.

Set Up

The set-up process is straightforward. If you have LabStats installed, follow these instructions:

  1. Log into your LabStats portal.
  2. Go to the Lab Tools tab, and click on “Remote Access.”
  3. Check the box to “Enable Remote Desktop Access on my campus”

You’ll be directed to a page to create and edit your dashboards. Once you receive the link to your first dashboard, test it. Then you can then publish the link to students via email, a link on your school’s website, or embed it in your website. Return to this page to make any further changes.

Remote Desktop Gateway & VPN

VPN access is not required for remote users.

Instead, you could use a remote desktop gateway or you could make your computers available directly through the internet by adding firewall exceptions for RDP access and by using static IP addresses. Both of these options reduce the amount of additional traffic that would be sent through your network and potentially reduce the risk of direct network access.

RD Gateway

According to Microsoft, “end users can connect to internal network resources securely from outside the corporate firewall through RD Gateway.” It also prevents you from having to add firewall exceptions for each of your computers individually. To learn more about RD Gateways and why Microsoft recommends using them, read Remote Desktop Services – Access from Anywhere.

How to Set Up an RD Gateway

Follow Microsoft’s set up guide: Deploy Your Remote Desktop Environment.

Windows 

The tool fully supports connecting to Windows computers. 

Minimum requirements

The minimum requirement for a student’s machine is an internet connection.

MacOS 

The tool fully supports connecting to Mac computers.

Macs on campus

The de facto remote connection approach on the Mac platform is VNC, which the Remote Access Dashboard supports. VNC offers seamless connections from a Mac to a Mac but does require a VNC viewer when connecting from Windows to Mac. Alternative connections are also supported.

Students using Macs remotely

Students may use their personal Mac computer to connect to a campus computer. They will have to download Microsoft Remote Desktop from the Mac App Store first (requires macOS 10.12 or later).

Computer Availability

Available computers

A computer is considered available if it’s powered on, connected to the internet and not in use. Availability is updated in real-time via the LabStats API, which powers the Remote Access Dashboard.

Unavailable computers

Computers that are unavailable (not powered on, not connected to the internet or already in use) do not show up in the Remote Access Dashboard. This ensures that two people are not trying to log into the same computer at the same time.

Randomized listing

The tool randomizes the computers that it shows to students to try and spread out the load. If computers were listed in a static order, the top-of-list machines could get disproportionately used.

Asleep Computers

An asleep computer is essentially shut down, and therefore not available. Apps are paused and network activity is suspended, so the Remote Access Dashboard assumes the computer is completely powered off. The Remote Access Dashboard has to treat “off” computers as not available (and thus filters them out) because the student can’t physically turn the computer on to make it usable.

Note: Other LabStats tools work differently. For instance, LabMaps generally treats “off” computers as available because they can be turned on by a student who will be physically present.

Authentication

LabStats facilitates getting students into the school/university computer systems, but it leaves authentication up to the school for maximum flexibility. 

This dashboard does not authenticate, but rather is a tool that surfaces the available computers and creates an RDP file pre-filled with connection information to simplify the process for the student. 

The authentication happens in the Remote Desktop connection itself using school/university systems, as well as with the VPN connection (if applicable). At that point RDP on school/university computers takes over and requires whatever authentication was set up on that end.

LabStats Groups

Computers listed in the dashboard are organized by your LabStats groups. Groups should be organized based on physical location, such as labs, libraries, classrooms, or any location with student-facing computers. 

If you wish to use the tool to provide access to faculty and staff resources, you’ll need to have the LabStats client installed on those machines and those groups set up as well.

Show or hide computers

If you need to change which computers show up within a specific group, you can make that change directly in the LabStats Portal. The dashboard will display computers that are assigned to the group, so if you want to change what appears, you can add or remove them from the group. Consider creating a temporary “holding group” if you don’t want the change to be permanent.

Show or hide groups

If you’d like to add or remove groups to change which computer labs appear on your dashboard, log into your LabStats portal to manage groups. 

Active Directory

Some organizations use Active Directory to establish the hierarchy of their LabStats groups. Whether you’re using Active Directory or building your groups another way, your LabStats groups are what students see in the Remote Access Dashboard. 

Pricing

Free for LabStats Users

Just like our other updates, new tools and ongoing support, the Remote Access Dashboard is available at no additional cost to LabStats users.

Affordable

The Remote Access Dashboard runs on LabStats real-time usage data, so you must have LabStats installed on any computer you want listed in the dashboard.

LabStats is $6 USD per client computer annually. 

Pricing is straightforward and includes all updates, technical support and personalized training. Our team is here to help you transition to remote and alternative environments quickly and get students connected with the resources they need.

Next Steps

We’re committed to partnering with you to find the best solutions for your unique environment, to ensure the success of your students wherever they may be.

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