Tag Archives: Rescue Alternatives

Simplehelp Review – Self-Hosted Remote Support Software

Written by William Roush on October 20, 2015 at 1:50 am

Simplehelp is a self-hosted remote support solution that takes many different approaches to the various methods of administrating your access and server wrapped up in a cost-effective solution.

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Simplehelp is a self-hosted remote support software, similar to the likes of LogMeIn, GoToAssist or ScreenConnect. In the wake of the ScreenConnect pricing issue, I keep hearing about Simplehelp, so I’d figure I’d look into it and give it a go.

Installation

Obtaining a trail license is easy, you can sign up through their website and you’ll get an e-mail with a license as an attachment with instructions on how to set up the application, we’ll of course be using a Debian 8 box (as per my standard setup), and we’ll see how difficult this is…

wget http://backend.simple-help.com/releases/SimpleHelp-linux-amd64.tar.gz
tar zxvf SimpleHelp-linux-amd64.tar.gz
cd SimpleHelp
./serverstart.sh

2015-10-20 01_36_40-Welcome to SimpleHelp

Well shoot, that was easy.

However this isn’t a very good setup, I don’t have it autostarting, and I’ll have to manually set it up with it’s own user account, but to get me running it’s pretty easy.

Administrating your box

One major thing you’ll notice that is different is that the web server is pretty barren, all it provides are downloads to the on-demand system, the administration software and the remote access download. The awesome part is every section comes with code to embed on a website to add the functionality to your own sites. it appears everything is Java (it comes with the Java Runtime Environment 1.6.0U16), so the UI is kind of clunky looking:

2015-10-20 01_40_18-Program Manager

However this application has an almost mad amount of configuration options, it would be a bore for me to go over them all so let me touch on some of the basics. You have a pretty decent user/group management system, where you can grant access to customers via your groups. The only part I don’t like is that you’re building filters for your groups which can be somewhat clunky (you write queries like “customer name is ‘roushtech'” which I’ve never been a big fan of). LDAP auth is available and easy to configure which is always nice.

Security wise you can restrict where techs can connect from via IP address, you can enable a built-in “two tier auth” which will e-mail your tech an authentication code to log in with when they try to log in. You can require customers enter a password (however this is shared).

There is a wide array of branding you can do, you can add your own images, names, etc.

Remote Access (on-demand and always-on)

2015-10-20 01_36_58-SimpleHelp Remote Support - Technician

Customers are presented with this download link to download and run the application, this seems to be the more surefire way most applications are going being as various browser plugins keep getting killed (and rightfully so). The user is prompted for elevation when firing up the application (would rather this happen later), but if they cancel out of it you can request it later.

2015-10-20 01_46_21-Test - Windows 7 x64

Elevate with the admin account or prompt the user on the machine to elevate, sweet.

Multi-monitor support and easy swapping

Multi-monitor support and easy swapping

Lots of options

Lots of options

Lots of good features here (disabled due to keyboard input being disabled), remote commands are easy to run from here, or restarting the machine. A “calling card” allows you to put a shortcut on the user’s desktop to allow them to reconnect to your system easily. You can duplicate sessions allowing other techs to log into the same session with you, and you can easily install/uninstall the always on remote access service. I love the calling card idea, and the ease of installing the remote access service from here is great too.

Connection bandwidth options are quite tweakable

Connection bandwidth options are quite tweakable

You can tweak all different kinds of settings in regards to your connection, no simple “high/medium/low” settings here, which means you can give/take certain trade-offs… willing to have fewer updates but really need more colors? Tweak it! Maybe the ability to save some favorites and make it easily switchable would be nice.

Statistics and tools

Statistics and tools

There is a fairly strong suite of tools for monitoring performance, looking at the registry, running commands, tweaking services, testing ports, it’s pretty feature rich for what it is.

So many connection options

So many connection options

Additionally both the technician and the client have many connection options, they’ll try to UDP directly and circumvent your server entirely for the best connection, if that fails they’ll UDP to the server, if that fails they’ll attempt TCP, if that fails they’ll drop to SSL to the server, and if that fails they’ll drop to HTTP. It really does go all-out in an attempt to make things work and allows you to look at all the details.

Various Issues

Weak Diffie-Hellman key on install

It appears the software ships with using the default DH keys, whoops:

2015-10-20 02_03_31-https____customer failed to load

You can set up your own SSL keys via the administration tools, however it must be uploaded in the form of a Java Keystore ick!! I’m not 100% certain but I’m sure you can tack in your own DH key in there too… If anyone is really curious hit me up and maybe I’ll do a write-up on it.

Scroll wheel not (really) working in app

My scroll wheel barely moves any UI elements in the admin app, this is a common problem I’ve had with various Java apps though…

Final Opinions

Pros

  • Starting at $320/session, it’s a good starter system for many.
  • UI workflow is great (eg: figuring out how to install remote access service, or elevate to admin).
  • Server attempts to connect over various methods and provides details to the tech on method being used.
  • Presenting feature is literally embedded in the browser, a cool idea.
  • I like access management, easy, organized, detailed.
  • Supports Wake-On-Lan (must have another machine on the network powered on AFAIK, never tested it on this application).
  • Small web surface makes it easier to secure vs. other options.

Cons

  • UI look is a bit clunky looking, but for what it is, things are easy to access and find.
  • Default security setup is poor.
  • Presenting being in-browser however lacks some functionality, such as switching presenters.
  • System tray notifications don’t work on WIndows 7
  • Don’t make us play to Java Keystores for SSL certs please.
  • UPNP didn’t appear to fire up, may be a con for some of you other there depending on it.

Overall

I think Simplehelp is an excellent option for people looking for a budget system or something they want to self-host, it’s got a few rough spots but in my opinion much easier to administrate and tweak then ScreenConnect.

ScreenConnect (ConnectWise Control) Review

Written by William Roush on July 16, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Looking for remote support software that wont break the bank? Open to self-hosted alternatives? ScreenConnect is a viable feature-rich option with a very affordable price point.

ScreenConnect

ScreenConnect has changed their pricing from this article and so far I’m not recommending it anymore, please read updates here.


 

What Is ScreenConnect?

ScreenConnect is self-hosted remote support software, an alternative to to LogMeIn Rescue, GoToAssist, or TeamViewer. The largest difference between ScreenConnect and its competitors is that it is self-hosted, where you deploy it on your own private servers.

Why Self-Hosted

Self-hosting comes with a variety of benefits, first is complete control over your traffic and environment. You can lock administration to internal access only, put it behind a reverse proxy, require additional authentication. The sky is the limit.

However, the biggest benefit to self-hosted (at least in this case) is the price.

Licensing

The cost of ScreenConnect at the time of posting is $325.00 per license. Each license entities you to one connected support session. A support session is defined as an active connection between a host and a guest. This means this support session can float between a small team where any one person can be supporting another at a time. This also means multiple techs can be on with a single guest and still only consume one license.

Lets break down the cost for 3 years of ownership with some competitors:

Solution Licensing Scheme 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 3 year TCO
ScreenConnect $325/seat + 20% support renewal/year. $325 $65 $65 $455
TeamViewer $749 one time (1 authorized workstation). $749 $0 $0 $749
LogMeIn Rescue $1,188/yr $1,188 $1,188 $1,188 $3,564
GoToAssist $660/yr subscription $660 $660 $660 $1,980

Requirements

Full list of ScreenConnect requirements can be found here. One of the biggest benefits is that you can run ScreenConnect on a variety of server platforms, including Windows, OSX and Linux!

ScreenConnect achieves this by running a .NET application on top of the Mono platform. I’ve been weary about Mono before, but ScreenConnect’s performance and stability has changed my mind entirely about how commercially ready Mono is.

Download And Installation On Debian 7

Installation is easy, download the latest tar.gz file, unpack, run install, and follow the instructions:

[email protected]:~# cd /tmp
[email protected]:/tmp# wget http://www.screenconnect.com/Downloads/ScreenConnect_4.3.6563.5232_Release.tar.gz
[email protected]:/tmp# tar xvf ScreenConnect_4.3.6563.5232_Release.tar.gz
[email protected]:/tmp# cd ScreenConnect_4.3.6563.5232_Install/
[email protected]:/tmp/ScreenConnect_4.3.6563.5232_Install# ./install.sh
Welcome to the ScreenConnect Installer

The installer will do these things:
1) Prompt you for installation options
2) Display a list of actions to be taken
3) Prompt you for execution of the actions
4) Execute the actions

Where would you like to install ScreenConnect?
[/opt/screenconnect]

What would you like as the service name for this ScreenConnect installation?
[screenconnect]

The installation will perform the following actions:
- Install libavcodec-extra-53 with Advanced Package Tool (apt)
- Install libswscale2 with Advanced Package Tool (apt)
- Install libavutil51 with Advanced Package Tool (apt)
- Install libavformat53 with Advanced Package Tool (apt)
- Create service script at /etc/init.d/screenconnect
- Create startup links in /etc/rcX.d/ directories
- Copy files into /opt/screenconnect
- Initialize configuration files
- Start screenconnect service

Do you want to install ScreenConnect?
(Y/n): y

[[Removed installation output]]

Running 'Create service script at /etc/init.d/screenconnect'...
Running 'Create startup links in /etc/rcX.d/ directories'...
Running 'Copy files into /opt/screenconnect'...
Running 'Initialize configuration files'...
Running 'Start screenconnect service'...

Installation complete!

Trying to figure out the best URL for you to use...

To access your new ScreenConnect installation, open a browser and navigate to:
http://localhost:8040/Host

[email protected]:/tmp/ScreenConnect_4.3.6563.5232_Install#

Navigating to http://[your host’s IP]:8040/Host will present you a wizard which will walk you through the rest of the installation process, including setting up your primary administration account and configuring your licensing information (if you need a trial license visit http://www.screenconnect.com/Try-It-Now).
Setup Wizard2014-05-25 22_48_20-ScreenConnect Remote Support Software

Hosting a Support Session

Hosting a support session is easy, click the plus button next to the “Support” header on the left, and you’ll be greeted with a list of options for sending your support request out.

Lots of options, easy to use.

Lots of options, easy to use.

I generally use invitation only and generate URLs to send to people over chat/e-mail, ScreenConnect supports plugging into a SMTP server and sending mail for you, or leveraging your locally installed mail client to send e-mails (I prefer this configuration for this method).

Active sessions are displayed in a list form, easy to tell status and who is connected.

Active sessions are displayed in a list form, easy to tell status and who is connected.

Your end user will be presented with instructions on how to connect, ScreenConnect supports a variety of methods to attempt to get the end-user online, including leveraging ClickOnce and Java Web Start, standard methods you’ll see competitors using.

Easy to understand instructions for the end user.

Easy to understand instructions for the end user.

From there it’s like any other remote desktop support software, with a large array of tools at the top of your screen.

Connection Information

Connection Information

Wide array of audio options, including listening and sending audio.

Wide array of audio options, including listening and sending audio.

Screenshot capture and video capture.

Screenshot capture and video capture.

Various file transfer options, nothing out of the ordinary.

Various file transfer options, nothing out of the ordinary.

Customizable toolbox, upload files that will be available between all sessions.

Customizable toolbox, upload files that will be available between all sessions.

Display quality and management.

Display quality and management.

By far the biggest thing I love about ScreenConnect’s UI is how well it manages multi-monitor clients. In most other software switching between displays is always clunky or seems sort of “out of the way”, ScreenConnect makes it feel right.

Various additional features.

Various additional features.

Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of rescue features, various blanking of devices, blocking of input, safe mode support. A bunch of “must haves” have all been checked.

Meetings

Meetings are kind of the inverse of support requests, a single presenter and multiple viewers. The UI is tweaked a bit to support this concept a bit more. I’ve had some minor UI workflow issues with handing presenter around being a little clumsy, but other than that it works well.

The only downfall about using it for meetings over GoToMeeting or something similar is that ScreenConnect doesn’t support plugging it into a phone system (though I understand this isn’t a trivial task from both the programming and logistics end), so you’ll either need to set up a conference room on your phone system or use the built-in VOIP functionality.

Administration

Administration is fairly straight-forward, everything is done with role-based access, though you can lock things down and prevent users from accessing specific groups of machines, the difficulty to do so leaves much to be desired on the UI (though this is currently being worked on as I understand it).

A nice server status screen showing general health of the application.

A nice server status screen showing general health of the application.

Funny enough the status screen shots “Windows Firewall Check” even though I’m on a Linux host…

ScreenConnect supports theming, allowing you to bring it inline with your company’s brand (be aware though, changing themes restarts the web site, so don’t expect uninterrupted service if you’re messing with that).

Additionally ScreenConnect keeps an audit log in the admin control panel, very useful if you need to track down changes or actions taken against the system.

Overall

ScreenConnect packs a ton of punch for a low cost with a wide range of platform options on a stable and rapidly developed software package. One of the most impressive things I’ve seen about ScreenConnect is the speed at which they’ve moved forward and provided more features, iterated on parts that were lacking and end up delivering a stable polished product every time.

In my opinion it is a must-have. With UPNP support it allows small-time technicians to purchase a copy, install it and run it on their home machines with no effort at all, but it includes the feature set and stability to be used at your SMB office (and probably beyond).