Parallels update gives business chops to the remote desktop

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With updates to Access, a remote desktop product now available for Android and iPhone users, Parallels offers a nice middle ground for businesses that want to let workers do more from their tablets and phones.

In addition to adding support for Android phones and tablets as well as the iPhone -- iPad support is already available -- Parallels is now offering Access for Business. The new tools for IT administrators could make Access a good fit for some businesses that have been looking for a simple way to enable remote access to apps and content on a Mac or PC.

There has been a lot of activity recently among vendors trying to make it easier for people to use the device of their choice, including tablets and phones, to access the same apps that they have on their desktops. Traditional desktop virtualization has been around for ages but is so notoriously difficult for companies to install and manage that they've had trouble making significant inroads.

Desktop-as-a-service offerings, from the likes of Amazon and VMware, which offer to manage virtualization for businesses, are one recent option for letting workers use many different kinds of devices to access apps they need to do their jobs. These services have some shortcomings because they deliver virtualized apps but not necessarily all the content or all the apps on a user's desktop.

Remote desktop software like Parallels Access is an older option. The problem has been that in many instances people simply sign up independently for any remote desktop software they can find. That means many different products may be in use within a business, potentially causing expense headaches as well as inviting users to access a range of possibly low-quality options.

Parallels is trying to solve some of those problems. Access for Business is quite limited for now, but with more features in the future it could become more appealing to businesses.

"We've had companies call us and say, 'I can't have 100 of my employees doing this independently. I want to manage it and get billed for it,'" said Kurt Schmucker, product manager at Parallels.

IT admins can now sign up for an Access business account to get some management features. They can manage access to corporate computers, grant and revoke permissions, and manage how many computers each user can access. They can use existing tools to push out client software to desktops and mobile devices. The product isn't integrated with Active Directory but Schmucker said the company plans to add support in the future.

Parallels has been working with a number of companies that have been using the product in beta, the largest of which has users numbering in the "many thousands," he said.

He argues that remote desktop products have advantages over virtualization offerings. "You get remote access to a machine you own or control," he said. "It's not a VDI-like solution where you can have thousands of people hitting one server. People want access to their apps with their data when they're not at their desk."  

One downside to remote desktop products, however, is that the desktop must be running in order for users to remotely access them. Parallels is taking a step in the right direction with Access 2.0 in that the client software on the phone or tablet can remotely wake up a Mac or PC. That means users can at least put their machines to sleep. Parallels warned, however, that the functionality is tricky depending on a company's LAN setup.

Users of Access for Business will pay based on the number of computers, with an unlimited number of iOS and Android devices included. It's essentially $10 per computer. At 100 computers or more, volume discounts and business support kicks in. The software will be free for a couple weeks, giving businesses an opportunity to try it out.

a screen shot of Access 2.0 on an iPhone Parallels

Access 2.0 displays a Windows keyboard on an iPhone. 

In addition to Access for Business, Parallels is adding a host of new features with the release of Access 2.0. Users can pin individual desktop apps to the home screen of their phone or tablet, change the screen resolution so that apps better fit their phone, use native copy and paste functionality on tablets and phones, and access Windows keyboard keys when accessing a PC from an Android or iOS device. 

Parallels is well-known for remote desktop in the Mac world and has some visibility among IT admins because it offers a System Center plug in for managing Macs. "That's been our entre into many enterprises," Schmucker said.  

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