As the name suggests, Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is an operating system feature that facilitates the easy deployment of remote computing services.

Put simply, Remote Desktop Services allow users to access applications and desktops from remote locations from a multitude of different devices. This is a field that has grown massively in relevance as an increasing amount of organizations move to a remote or hybrid working model.

This guide takes a deep dive into the feature and discusses everything you need to know about Remote Desktop Services.

Remote Desktop Services – The Background

Before we look at the features and benefits of Remote Desktop Services, it is worth getting some context by touching on the history of the feature.

Since 1998, Microsoft has offered a form of remote computing in their server software, professional versions of desktop software, and to a lesser degree, home versions of their operating systems. Until the release of Windows Server 2008 R2, this service was known as “Terminal Services.”

But the release of Server 2008, signalled the birth of RDS, as the benefits and advantages of the technology drove its evolution.

The change was an acknowledgement of the rise of remote working practices and aimed to simplify the process for IT professionals and the users they serviced.

The Main Uses of Remote Desktop Services

There are two main functions that organizations use RDS for. These are described below: 

1. RemoteApp – RemoteApp is a feature of Remote Desktop Services that allows organizations to set up cloud-based applications. This allows users to access and utilize the applications using an internet connection and any compatible device.

For the organization, there are several distinct advantages of this a couple of the main ones are described below: 

  • Time savings – There is no need to install the app on each machine.
  • Centralised Management – Similarly, this simplifies the management of the application and ensures a coherent approach to tasks like software updates is easily maintained.

2. Microsoft Remote Desktop Component – This service allows users to connect and interact with remote desktops. This can be achieved from anywhere with an internet connection and from a range of hardware devices.

Once the connection is made, the user has access to all the functions they would normally have if they were physically sitting at the machine.

Main Windows RDS Server Components

Remote Desktop Services is really an umbrella term that encompasses several key features. The following section describes the major components that Remote Desktop Services is comprised of: 

Remote Desktop Services Host (RDSH)

This could be described as the central repository of the system. This is where the apps and desktops that are shared with users are stored. System administrators can use the RDSH features to organize and control user access and permissions.

Remote Desktop Gateway (RDG)

This component is used to allow users to access apps and data that are hosted by Microsoft’s Azure Cloud computing service.

Remote Desktop Connection Broker (RDCB)

This could be described as the “traffic manager” for Remote Desktop Services. It is used to monitor and supervise the incoming requests made to RDSH servers. Amongst the tasks it performs is balancing the load requests made across multiple RDSH servers (often referred to as RDSH Server Farms)

Remote Desktop Licensing Servers

This component deals with the licensing required to access the RDS services. These licenses are known as Client Access Licenses (CAL). This is an important aspect of RDS, and as such, we will look at CALs in more detail a little later.

Remote Access Web Services (RAWS)

If you have ever used a web portal to access a work server or app, then chances are this is the service you used. This works with a service on the local device called Microsoft Remote Desktop Client to provide this function.

Remote Desktop

As the name implies, this feature is what allows users to remotely access a real or virtual desktop from a compatible device. Any device that can run the Remote Desktop Client can use this feature, this includes many smartphones and tablets.


In a similar vein, this is the function that allows users to use remote applications from any device, regardless of the OS the device runs on.

Understanding Client Access Licenses (CAL)

One key feature that users wanting to utilize Remote Desktop Services need to be aware of is the CAL licensing system. RDS CALs are required by every user that will utilize Remote Desktop Services.

There are two types of Client Access Licenses: 

  • User CAL – This is a license that is issued to a specific user. This allows the user to utilize the RDS services from any device.
  • Device CAL – This license is issued to a specific device. This means that any person using the licensed device has access to the RDS services.

The type of license that an organization opts for is largely dependent on how the RDS services are to be used. In most cases, a mixture of both types of license is used.

The Benefits of Remote Desktop Services

Most organizations now use some form of remote computing. This could be as simple as letting staff access a few files remotely or as complex as running a remote working model for many of its staff.

Regardless of the situation, there are many benefits of using Remote Desktop Services, here are a few of the main ones: 

  • Applications – Many of us “old-timers” still remember the days when updating an application involved taking a CD and wandering around the office updating the software on individual machines. This is one of the major advantages of RDS. It means that every user is running the same version and also that less capable machines can still run intensive applications.
  • Cross-Operating System Functionality – Users accessing the server from Operating Systems like Linux, iOS, and Android are supported.
  • Centralised Cloud-Based Data – Data storage is simplified and more secure with RDS.
  • Cost and Time Savings – Time and cost savings can be made by streamlining the processes of adding new devices to a network and configuring their software requirements.

These are just a few of the many benefits of RDS. But perhaps the biggest benefit of all is the fact that such services have freed up businesses and individuals to change the way we work by simplifying the process of remote access.


Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services is at the forefront of the remote working revolution. This is a rapidly evolving field, and RDS will continue to develop as the demands of organizations dictate.

We hope this guide helped you to understand the technology that lies at the heart of Remote Desktop Services.